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A Mural Installation Isn't a Weapon of Mass Reproduction

From an art culture that uses political content to drive its narrative, a demonstration of animosity was no surprise. It was to be expected that some Los Angeles muralists act out the defiance of David Alfaro Siqueiros, whose "America Tropical" at Olvera Street was a touchstone to Chicano artists in the 1970s. Still, what has happened counters what many believe Siqueiros was about.

When representatives of the Social Public Art and Resource Center (SPARC) spoke in support of digitally produced murals at the July 12 public hearing at City Planning, they were soundly booed by muralists who support the idea that only painted works should fall under the new mural ordinance.

Some have slightly backpedaled their position that led to the call to action of no-vinyl as a manifesto, and now, as one undisclosed muralist is saying through Facebook, the real issue was keeping costs down for painters. The rumbling is also having their work on the draft tossed out the window. Which is unfounded. No group was assigned to draft the ordinance, including SPARC. They were all invited to participate.

There is a softening on the stance, which is fortunate since it would have been a conflict with Siqueiros' philosophy. Paint-only muralists border on censorship and elitism, as well as contradict how Siqueiros pushed technology until his passing in 1974.

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The Last Mural

Siqueiros' last major work includes the exterior of The Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum, a set of murals made of panels that came out of La Tallera, a studio workshop in Cuernavaca. It was owned by Manuel Suárez y Suárez, the patron of the Polyforum, according to Leonard Folgarait, Professor of History of Art at Vanderbilt University, and author of "So Far from Heaven: David Alfaro Siqueiros' The March of Humanity and Mexican Revolutionary Politics." "Siqueiros meant for La Tallera to represent a cross section and collective effort of the working class, committed to new technologies and to the advancement of Mexican art," said the historian to KCET last week.

"This workshop included not only painters, but also sculptors, metal workers, and technicians expert in constructing the large panels that would be transported and installed in Mexico City," Folgarait said. The panels, measuring 4 x 3.30 meters, were made of a composite of asbestos and cement, and mounted on frameworks of rust proof steel. The paint itself was acrylic, of the sort used for automobile paint. "These high tech materials had always been important to Siqueiros to insist that technological progressiveness had to accompany political progressiveness, in order to keep the politics from becoming outdated," he said.

And the anti-digital installation camp led the anti-vinyl banner stance by making an issue of environmental hazards of PVC, as stated during July 12 public comment, and in comment at a previous post. They do not want vinyl banners to invade their breathing air, a defense that often cites the recent study by University of Gothenburg in Sweden that argues PVC materials are hazardous. Yet, what is not taken into account is that the study's international assessment of chemical composition in plastic polymers included higher ranking flooring and children's toys. The most toxic of the products sampled were synthetic textile and furniture fabrics, according to the 2010 study.

You will not hear protests about carcinogenic hazard from the application and manufacturing of solvents, binders in paints, pigments, and additives in both oil-based and water-based paints. Not to mention the application of paint by aerosol spray, or the environmental damage caused by rain diluting the paint from murals into sewer drains leading to the ocean. That would also have to include the waste water spill from cleaning walls and brushes. In all, paints are second only to vehicle exhaust as a hazard in the U.S., according to a 2004 survey by The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences.

Also, this odd commitment to clean the air by the paint-only muralist lobby would not, by their definition, recognize the most environmental sound of all murals: wheat-pastes.

Making a counter position to ban paint is not the point here. Paint is the soul of murals. And so is inventing. The city showed how murals can become a bookmark for its neighborhoods, and it did that by leading new ideas of what makes a mural.

If it were not for the jeers from the crowd, the mural ordinance would have gone through after hearing the concerns, and be changed on its way to the next stage. It would have been one step closer to being approved.

The Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum l Photo by Edgama De Cuates via Flickr / Creative Commons license

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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