When Los Angeles officials decided last November to preserve the kaleidoscopic murals of Occupy L.A., they thought they were doing a good thing – for history, for art and for the protesters themselves.
Turns out Occupy L.A. doesn't see it that way.
In an open letter to the city's Department of Cultural Affairs posted last week on Occupy L.A.'s surprisingly fecund website, the group calls for the prompt return of the murals before they fall into the clutches of evil institutions like, say, museums or art galleries. A “General Assembly” will then hold a “transparent, horizontal, democratic consensus-building process” to determine the artworks' ultimate fate. If the city doesn't cough up the goods, the protesters swear they will “renounce the Murals’ value under any and all circumstances.”
The demand came on the heels of the cultural affairs department's call for institutions to house and possibly exhibit the murals for perpetuity. The deadline to apply as curator of the unique paintings – eight in all, executed with graffitiesque flair on plywood sheets – expired yesterday.
What will happen to the art from here on out is unknown. A city spokesperson declined to comment, while attempts to contact a member of Occupy L.A. via its online chatroom were unsuccessful.
The protesters' claim for artistic ownership of the murals can be broken down into two main arguments.
First, they say that the paintings are not finished. How's that? Well, back when they were being created, anybody could walk by and add his or her squiggle or protest statement to the mural. That process made... no, makes them works of living art:
“We are certain that, had the art been allowed to continue to grow, the aesthetic, symbolic gesture would have enveloped all signs of oppression, and revealed an unconscious and beautiful truth. Your dedication towards preserving the OLA Murals as 'artifacts' has prevented you from understanding the purpose of the artwork: continued inspiration through public participation. The purpose of the Occupiers’ art was to *continually* inspire for a greater purpose. When you preserve the Murals and store them away from their makers, you hide away the People’s freedom to be empowered through creativity. By naming them 'artifact,' you describe our once-living art as lifeless and attempt to frame our Movement as such as well. We assure you that the Occupation is very much alive and well.”
Emphasis mine, to point out that the pigeons strolling around in the empty park in front of city hall might argue against that assertion. But it's an interesting aesthetic philosophy nonetheless.
Secondly, Occupy L.A. takes offense at the idea of this artwork of the people gathering dust in a government building somewhere. Even worse would be to see them wind up in the possession of a gallery, where they'd be effectively “privatized for the 1% within our corrupt economic system.”
“We believe your appraisal of the OLA Murals misunderstands their true purpose and value. Outside OLA’s group of autonomous Mural artists, OLA, or the People themselves, we believe the artworks should neither be owned, nor released to institutions, nor displayed without the consent of the Occupy Los Angeles General Assembly. The OLA Murals were made for the People and they belong to the People. Therefore, we cannot, in principle, condone their release to anybody else.”
To which the City of Los Angeles might respond: You painted the murals on our plywood, so we get to decide what to do with them.
If the protesters get their way and recover the murals, where would they be housed? Under a tent in a public park? In the respective houses of the main mural painters themselves? If any Occupy L.A.ers are reading, please feel free to chip in with comments below. Meanwhile, here are some of the murals that decorated the park last year. The ones labeled with letters are now in the city's possession:
By EsotericSapience via Flickr