UPDATE 10/26: Mike Oz and I put together an in-depth story about the Palomino’s mural controversy in today’s paper. Of particular interest: information about a 1990 amendment to the U.S. Copyright Act known as the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, which gives artists — including mural artists — specific rights to a work. If a work is destroyed, the artist could seek recourse in federal court.
If you want to wade through a whole lot of ugly, check out the reader comments on the Bee story, many of which seem to come from folks who 1) are fierce law-and-order types except when 2) they don’t like the law in question.
Questions remain about this latest Tower mural controversy. Will another mural go up on the blank Tower Theatre wall, and will artist Josh Wigger be involved? Or will he pursue his rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act?
I have some general questions as well, especially considering the recent activity in what some are calling the “Mural District” in the north part of downtown. Are property owners who contract with mural artists aware of the potential copyright issues involved? Are commissions that are being signed today including specific terms about how long a mural is guaranteed to stay intact? What about issues of preservation, including the use of removable panels?
I’m also intrigued by the obvious artistic divide in the community about how murals are regarded in terms of longevity. Some people feel they should be considered temporary and have a short shelf-life. Others feel they should be preserved just like any other painting or sculpture.
On the jump: the original mural post.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Folks are buzzing about the painting over of Joshua Wigger’s big iconic mural on the side of Palomino’s restaurant in the Tower District.
Bee business writer Bethany Clough talked to Susan Neville, box office manager of the Tower Theatre this afternoon, who said: “We painted over it. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it. I know we’re trying to clean up the building. It was starting to look a little bit shoddy. Sometimes kids would come and put little stickers on there. So we thought, let’s just clean it up for now.”
Here’s where things could get sticky: It appears the murals are part of a series of projects in the Olive Avenue business district paid for in 2006 by $50,000 the mayor requested for the area in the city budget.
Reaction from the artist: It’s a bit of understatement to say that Wigger, who is based in Los Angeles but returns to Fresno frequently to paint murals, is annoyed over the news. He told me by phone this afternoon: “I really think they should have gotten hold of the artist. You just don’t paint over the wall. If it’s looking shoddy, you have the artist come back and touch it up.”
He first learned about the mural being painted over from a friend who wrote: “I can’t believe they took your mural down.”
Wigger has been trying to contact Bill Kuebler of the Tower District Marketing Committee, which acted as a liaison when the Tower District murals were painted, to find out exactly what happened.
Back in 2006, when the mural was painted, Palomino’s kicked in a portion of the money to pay for the mural, with the rest coming from the city. The Bee reported that the city’s share of the cost was about 70%.
Wigger points out that with city money involved in the mural project, questions remain unresolved about whether a property owner (in this case the Tower Theatre) has the right to unilaterally paint over a public art project paid for by the taxpayers.
“There were contractual agreements beforehand,” Wigger says. “I do know I signed some papers. I don’t know whether those agreements went into retaining my contractual right to the image. And we didn’t talk about the property owner having the right to paint over it. I don’t believe that was discussed.”
As for what’s ahead: Wigger, in a comment on this very post, writes:
I believe that there should be just compensation for the loss of this mural by doing a new one funded by Tower theatre, those who want to have a mural on the same wall (donations) and myself.
I have a call in to the city to sort out the public-money part of this and whether the Tower Theatre owners blew it by arbitrarily painting over the mural.
Meanwhile, at this point it’s hard to know whether the closing of Palomino’s — which Bethany Clough confirms on The Bee’s news/business blog – was related to the painting over of the mural. Clough talked to Daniel Renteria, owner of The Pinot Wine Bar and Bistro, scheduled to open in mid-November, who said he did not have any say in the mural decision.
He declined to give his opinion on the change, except that: “Maybe we’ll ask them to do something else. That was a really beautiful mural.”
[photos: Edward Stewart's blog]