Government, YWCA, Others to Pay $1.1 Million for Destroyed Mural; Artist Hopes to Recreate It Downtown
by Richard Guzman
It has been nearly two years since Kent Twitchell’s massive mural of pop artist Ed Ruscha was rudely painted over by work crews.
Now, following last week’s $1.1 million settlement between the artist, the federal government and 12 other defendants – including the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, which was readying the building at 1031 S. Hill St. for a new YWCA Job Corps Center when the mural was painted over – the 70-foot-tall “Ed Ruscha Monument” could find a new home in Downtown.
Although there are no solid plans yet, Twitchell last week told Los Angeles Downtown News that he hopes to salvage what he can from the mural and reproduce it on another building Downtown.
“I’m sure it’s not going to be very smart to try to put it back where it is because it’s hostile ground,” Twitchell said Wednesday, the day the settlement was announced. “I want somehow to bring it back so I want to weigh my options and see what I can do… but it’s got to be a work Downtown.”
The law firm Sheldon Mak Rose & Anderson announced the settlement and said it is believed to be the largest payout ever under the Federal Visual Rights Act and the California Art Preservation Act. Those measures outlaw the alteration or destruction of public works of art without prior notice to the artist to allow it to be removed.
The Department of Labor, which owns the building where the mural once stood, will pay $250,000 as part of the settlement. The YWCA and the other defendants, which include various contractors, will make up the remaining $850,000.
Representatives for the YWCA and the Department of Labor did not return calls from Downtown News last week.
The settlement is seen as an important step in protecting the work of other artists, said William Brutocao, Twitchell’s lead trial attorney on the case.
“I think it’s a fair settlement. What Mr. Twitchell was looking for was recognition for the rights of the artist in the first place and the opportunity to preserve it,” said Brutocao. “What we hope it illustrates is that if you’ve got art involved in your property and you’re going to do something that affects that art, you need to comply with the law.”
Under the terms of the settlement, Twitchell has until June 2009 to remove the artwork. After that, the building owner will be under no obligation to allow Twitchell access to the site.
The fiasco began early on the morning of June 2, 2006. As Downtown workers were heading to their jobs, a work crew began painting over the wall. The crew started with the part that depicted Ruscha, then moved on to the blank portions. The entire “Ed Ruscha Monument” was erased in a matter of hours.
The act shocked Twitchell, who on the day of the paint-over was in Northern California, where his daughter was about to be married. “They painted him over?” Twitchell said that day, when contacted by Downtown News. “It’s against the law to just do that without contacting the artist first.”
A groundswell of anger and legal maneuvers began almost immediately. Downtown Councilwoman Jan Perry asked for answers, and the month after the paint-over, Twitchell filed a $5.5 million claim against the Department of Labor for the destruction of the 19-year-old artwork. A complaint filed in August in U.S. District court named the YWCA and others.
Despite the repeated questions, no one ever revealed who gave the order to begin painting. In 2006, in one of the few statements released about the incident, the Department of Labor sought to explain the whitewashing by citing the safety of Job Corps students and staff.
According to court documents obtained by Downtown News at the time, officials at the YWCA accused the Department of Labor of negligence in approving the work.
Last week’s settlement did not reveal who was responsible. Instead, the action was blamed on miscommunication between several contractors working for the Department of Labor and the YWCA.
“What happened here is that there was a whole lot of different contractors involved with this building in general and this project in particular,” said Brutocao, “and basically the best way I can describe what happened was that dealing with the bureaucracy, some people that were involved assumed other people were going to take care of whatever needed to be done legally with the artwork, and so it was the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.”
Small portions of the mural became visible again in February 2007 when Twitchell and a group of attorneys gathered under the former artwork to watch an art consultant conduct a series of tests on the beige paint covering the mural. The tests revealed part of one of the hands.
Twitchell said it is feasible that the mural could be salvaged within a year. However, he said it is more likely that he will only save and remove the hands and head.
“If I went that route I would only take off sections of it and build another mural around the head and hands. There’s more work in those than the rest combined,” he said.
The point of the lawsuit, he said, was to help protect other works of art.
“What we were trying to do mostly is make a point. It has to have a repercussion. You can’t just go out and take out works of public art just because you feel that you have the authority to do it. You’ve got to obey the laws. That meant more to us than any other single factor,” he said.
Still, Twitchell said that looking at that wall and seeing beige paint instead of the mural stings.
“It was in the prime of its life, actually. It could have been there for generations with no upkeep.”
Contact Richard Guzman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I like the idea of keeping things like this alive. Sure it is not the original but it could turn out just as good.
Very interesting article.
Thanks for your job.
1.1 million seems like an awful lot, but it certainly does set the record straight for future works of art!
Just heard on the news today that the “The Troubles” murals in Northern Ireland are to be painted over and replaced with more “politically correct” pictures. Hope someone has documented them all first.
That’s a really interesting read for me, you’re thankful for this post.. I’ve been checking your posts from time to time
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