Following a lead in a column of Artillery magazine’s March/April print edition, “The sad, slow death of LA’s freeway murals,” I spent some time today researching the street battle between LA taggers and muralists—and the courtroom battle between artist Frank Romero and the state authorities of CalTrans.
To tell you the truth, I’ve given up on outdoor public art.
—Frank Romero (Artillery)
In 2005 Romero oversaw an “intensive” restoration of his Going to the Olympics (originally completed 1984). But in 2008, the state painted over and effectively destroyed the mural altogether, to remove the all-consuming tagging built up in just three years’ time. In 2006 Los Angeles County spent $30 million in graffiti abatement; over the same year, CalTrans spent $5 million in graffiti clean-up for freeways in Los Angeles and Ventura counties alone.
Despite what I’ve said in previous writings on graffiti and Atlanta murals, the article compounds the argument against blind spending (and instead for greater sustainability) in public art. John Wehrle, whose own mural is dying a “death of a thousand cuts” due to graffiti, explains that,
Restoration of murals was a noble but ill-conceived effort that was doomed to failure because it didn’t include a serious plan to protect and maintain the murals once they were restored …. As soon as they figured out that maintenance crews were more reluctant to paint over graffiti on murals, it was open season on murals.
In Atlanta we’ve had our own recent clash between taggers and murals. Tom Zarilli posted this quip on ARTNEWS last month:
The massive watershed mural in Lake Claire was tagged a few weeks ago. Over a year of work and considerable funds went into creating what may be one of the largest murals in the city. I contributed to the wrok [sic] my wife worked for weeks on it. The damage is done but does anyone know whose tag this is. I think there should be a bit of public shame attached to this damage. The Neighborhood association is working on fixing the damage and I believe there is a protective coating on the work, but the repair is no easy job.
I saw volunteers working on restoring the Water Shed mural yesterday; murals like that one constitute a real value to the community. Why tag over them?