Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Volume 6, Number 4 Summer, 1995


Unusual grant by anonymous New York donor to provide MCLA with long range endowment investment and scholar Judith Hoffberg with residence/workplace

In another era acts of grandiose generosity may have been regarded with less amazement, but in the tight-fisted decade of the '90s the grand gesture of long-range visionary support is a minor miracle. Happily L.A.'s mural lovers now know that angels still do fly, even if they need to come from across the country. Wishing to remain unidentified, an anonymous New York donor provided the means for MCLA to make a real estate purchase that will also provide housing and workspace for senior art scholar Judith Hoffberg, publisher of Umbrella, and which will also serve as the foundation of MCLA's planned long range mural endowment. The $130,000 donation came in during May, earmarked to (mostly) purchase investment property that turns out to be a Santa Monica condominium, and stipulating that it provide housing for a "senior scholar" based here in Los Angeles.

The Board selected Hoffberg based on her track record supporting and documenting public art and mail art, as well as financial need. Hoffberg will also contribute an annual article of schoarly value pertaining to L.A.'s murals.

She will occupy the condominium for the indefinite future while continuing her research and publishing activities.

Ultimately the property may be liquidated in order to provide MCLA with a sustantial step forward in its long term approach to maintaining top local murals.

The Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and the California Community Foundation both recently announced that MCLA is among 1995 grant recipients at levels of $4,350 and $5,000 respectively, thus insuring continued growth of the Mural Rescue Program.


Three of the six recent additions to the Mural Rescue Program received facelifts during the past three months. Tom Suriya's landmark Hollywood mural, You Are the Star had done a fade to milky white over much of its upper portion due to loosening of its top layer of urethane varnish. An MCLA crew worked Soluvar into the surface to reaffix it back to the paint layer and reinforce its coating power. Mural visitors will also notice two "holes" in the upper section of the image resulting from the removal of two small window-sized areas. Two decaying wood panels were taken and shipped to the artist, who is recreating the details for reintegration into the mural using material that will not be subject to the same decay. Look for their addition by the fall.

In June a crew joined artist John Wehrle in cleaning and retouching his Galileo, Jupiter and Apollo mural located on the Hollywood Freeway in the downtown slot. It had accumulated graffiti scribbled in a half-dozen areas along it's length. The unusual kime paint used in painting the mural makes the use of varnish coatings of any kind undesirable, so the need for periodic touch-up will be a requirement for this fine mural into the foreseeable future.

Russ Carlton's Heavenly Garden of Knowlege, completed only two years ago, had its sacrificial coating service picked up by MCLA to insure that this fine work is protected from weathering and graffiti.


by Richard Solomon

The typical agreement between a muralist and building owner for a commissioned work assigns legal title or ownership of the mural to the owner. If there is no such contract provision, however, and the artist wishes to remove the work, the California Art Preservation Act (Civil Code S987) does not explicitly cover this situation. The federal Visual Artists Rights Act does not cover it either. A muralist might try to remove their mural, but it is difficult to predict with any certainty how a judge might rule on a dispute if it became the subject of a lawsuit. Therefore, to avoid uncertainty, the subject should be covered in a written agreement between the owner of the property and the artist.

The right of integrity is the primary focus of both the California and federal laws, and brings us back to the Lady of the Freeway story. In brief, both state the following rules:

If the owner wishes to alter or tear down the structure on which the artwork has been placed, they must contact and allow the artist to remove it at the artist's expense. No time is specified, but since federal law allows the artist 90 days within which to remove the mural, presumably a California court would allow the same 90 days. A written agreement between the artist and building owner is not required.

If the mural cannot be removed without damage, the owner can proceed to destroy it without notice to the artist, unless the artist has reserved the right to be notified and to try to remove the mural. This agreement must be in writing, signed by both parties, and recorded with the local County Recorder's office. If the artist reserves these rights, the owner must make a good faith attempt to notify the artist or the artist's heirs. The federal law does not require recording the agreement; this raises the same preemption problem discussed above regarding "commercial use."

Obviously, there are two crucial aspects to preserving the right of integrity. The first is the technical question of whether the mural can be removed from the surface. Muralists who want to preserve future removal as an option should only use surface preparation methods and materials which allow the mural to be removed intact; and the method and materials used for each mural should be documented.

The second important aspect is a written agreement between the artist and structure owner that spells out, among other important terms, the artist's right to notice and removal should the building/structure ever be demolished or altered. Unless otherwise provided in the agreement, the artist would have to pay to remove the mural. Thus, assuming the Lady of the Freeway mural could have been removed without damage, the owner was obligated to notify Twitchell that he intended to paint it over and give him at least 90 days to remove it. Even if it could not have been removed without some damage, Twitchell would still have had the right to remove it, although, again, at his own expense, if he had reserved the right to notice and removal in a signed and recorded agreement.

You can see that the provisions work a compromise between the parties' competing interests: if the building owner had to pay for the cost of removing a mural, the legislature feared that fewer owners would commission public art. A building could, of course, be destroyed many years after completion of a mural. If a muralist wants to preserve his or her moral right of integrity in the work, the owner must be kept advised of the artist's whereabouts. The parties should put their addresses where notices are to be sent in the agreement, and muralists are advised to send change of address notices to owners whenever they move, preferably by certified mail, return receipt requested.

The federal law sets up an alternative notice scheme; it authorizes the Register of Copyrights to set up a notice system--the artist may (it is not mandatory) "record his identity and address with the Copyright Office," and notice to that address is presumed to be adequate. This may be a good system to use; if the muralist keeps the Copyright Office advised of each change of address, the owner must use that address.

Finally, the right of attribution (and non-attribution) is specifically protected by both California and federal law. The California provision states, "The artist shall retain at all times the right to claim authorship, or, for a just and valid reason, to disclaim authorship of his or her work of fine art."--Civil Code S987(d). The federal provision is a bit more complex: the artist has the right "to claim authorship . . .; to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of any work of visual art which he or she did not create; [and] the right to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation. . . ."--17 U.S.C.S106A(a)(1) and (2). Again, this somewhat different language could lead to different results on the facts of a specific dispute.

Although somewhat confusing, the recognition of artists' moral rights in their work is a significant step forward in our cultural development. It acknowledges that art is an aspect of its creator's personality, and that artists continue to have an interest in their work even after it is sold in the marketplace. Indeed, the recognition of moral rights is premised on values completely apart from the marketplace, a notion which makes them all the more precious in the current age.


by Robin Dunitz

Out in the Mojave Desert, less than three hours from L.A., a new mural town is taking shape. Thanks to a collection of local business people, artists and other boosters, four quality works of fine art have been completed on outdoor walls in less than a year.

Invited by the Action Council for 29 Palms, Inc., three Mural Conservancy activists visited the small desert community on May 25. Before lunch we had the chance to talk with realtor Larry Briggs and get some background on the project.

"We have no industry here whatsoever. The only industry, if you will, is the Marine Corps base. But we have a National Park [Joshua Tree] that's right in our backyard, with a million and a half visitors a year. But most people who come through don't even know there's a little town here. Starting from an idea in the early summer of 1994, we decided that murals were the way that we could revitalize the town. We'd have what we call an outdoor art gallery.

"So about eight of us went up to Chemainus [a famous mural town in British Columbia, Canada] in September, Susanville, California, in October, and Lompoc in January of 1995. In each place, they showed us around and told us how they had progressed.

"We had people who said it gets so hot here that the murals will melt off the walls. But the artists said that's not true--actually, moisture is probably a bigger enemy to a mural than heat.

"We developed a five-year plan that calls for a minimum of four murals a year. In addition there will be neighborhood art projects to revitalize the residential areas."

Artists are chosen by a selection committee. Up until now that artists have come up with their own subject matter. The first mural, Key's Family Mural, focuses on the area's early history and one pioneer family in particular. It was painted by Dan Sawatsky, an artist based in Chemainus who has done murals all over North America, including Lompoc. Oasis of Mara depicts the daily life of the Chememhuevi Indians, attracted to the area by an underground spring and the oasis it created. The artist is Ron Croci, a muralist from Hawaii who painted it while visiting family. The mural is located on a market at 73777 20-Palms Highway (Route 62).

A Pasadena physician by the name of Dr. Luckie is the subject of the third mural, Dr. Luckie and the World War I Veterans. He treated vets suffering from the effects of poison gas. Other doctors at the time considered their prognosis poor, but Dr. Luckie encouraged the men to resettle in the healthier atmosphere of 29 Palms. Instead of dying early as predicted by some, many of these vets bought homesteads and lived to a ripe old age. The mural is by Flagstaff, Arizona artist Don Gray, and is located at 6159 Adobe Road.

The most recent addition is Neighbors in Nature, a visual lesson on the flora and fauna of the Mojave. There is even an identification key along the bottom. Artist Larry Eifert works for the National Park Service and lives in Ferndale, California. The murals is at 73484 29-Palms Highway (Route 62).

There is one more mural is the works, slated for completion in October--in time for the local Pioneer Days festivities. Although the emphasis so far has been of local history, there is talk of broadening the subjects portrayed. Artists are encouraged to get in contact and send samples of their work. Write the Action Council for 29 Palms, Inc., 73491 29 Palms Highway, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277, or call (619) 361-2286.

Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles Journal
Published quarterly, © 1995, Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA).

Editor: Bill Lasarow
Contributing Editors:
Robin Dunitz, Orville O. Clarke, Jr., Richard Solomon, Nathan Zakheim
Masthead Logo Design: Charles Eley.

The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles was formed to help protect and document murals, and enhance public awareness of mural art in the greater Los Angeles area. These programs are made possible by the tax-deducible dues and donations of our members, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, the California Arts Council, the National/State/County Partnership Program, and the Brody Fund of the California Community Foundation.