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Much Debate on How to Define and Save L.A.'s Murals

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, May 29, 2008, at 11:38AM
_IGP4456 Ed Fuentes

Actor Francesco Quinn and “Pope of Broadway” muralist Eloy Torrez.

What defines a mural?

Yesterday four motions passed through the city council's Planning and Land Use committee. They attempt to put a pause to current enforcement efforts seen as detrimental to muralism while defining new rules for what is and isn't allowed.

The four proposed motions call for murals to be clearly defined as fine art. They also place a temporary hold on current enforcement being done by Building and Safety under the guise of stamping out illegal signage.

As the city process works its course, a mid-June panel at Morono Kiang Gallery will bring together a cross-section of those involved in the debate.

The Arts District has recently lost several works that used graffiti composition. Pieces have been buffed over after property owners were sternly informed that the works were illegal, and that fines would be forthcoming. Other pieces are left alone, the decision of enforcement a subjective call by the local LAPD personnel.

While certainly not all graf based art sits in the same category as works by muralists like Judith Baca, Kent Twitchell, Eloy Torrez, Wayne Healy and David Botello, their loss still quiets a colorful neighborhood.

Even without city interference, it’s difficult enough to preserve and restore works simply lost to the elements. The “Pope of Broadway,” a Downtown landmark on 3rd street, is flaking and there is a call for action to restore it. The image of Anthony Quinn has been dancing above a parking lot across from the Bradbury Building for decades, but the work's condition is declining.

Recently, the son of Anthony Quinn, actor Francesco Quinn, and “Pope of Broadway” muralist Eloy Torrez, were documenting their experiences with the work in preparation for a panel discussion “AGAINST THE WALL: The Ruin & Renewal of LA’s Murals” being held at the Morono Kiang Gallery (MKG) Saturday, June 14.

Panelists will also include SPARC’s Judith Baca, Cultural Affairs Public Arts Division Arts Manager Pat Gomez, graff artist and Crewest Gallery owner Man One, and former City Councilman Michael Woo, now Professor in USC's School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

While they discuss murals in Downtown’s Historic Core, the obstacles to mural preservation, and why murals are worth saving to represent a diverse Los Angeles, I hope they mention ordinances currently on the books that state that if a mural, or painted work, contains text of a commercial entity is considered a sign and not fine art.

Somehow, if these rules were in place in 1984, the "Pope of Broadway" -- with its “Victor Clothing Company” text, in thanks to the building's owners who sponsored the work -- would not have been known as a mural, but just a colorful sign.

Thankfully, Department of Building and Safety and LAPD were not the curators of murals back in 1984.

Morono Kiang Gallery Saturday, June 14, 2008 2:00 – 5:00 PM Free, Seating is Limited, RSVP required 213.628.8208 | mkg@moronokiang.com

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