Four new canvas banners were unveiled along the 101 freeway last week -- another phase in a pilot program by Caltrans and Wells Fargo to bring back public art aesthetics to downtown Los Angeles concrete commuter corridors.
They are being called murals, or mural replicas, and what they lack in scale is almost made up in dogged determination to bring art to the walls that once had some of the city's most visible public art works.
Spaced along the freeway retaining walls between Alameda Street and Broadway, the graffiti and vandal-resistant works are printed on canvas made of recycled plastic and vinyl fabric, said Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler. "Viaje" and "Un homenaje a la Mujer Latinoamericana" by Jimmy Centeno, "Birdsee(d)" and "Bomba" by Rene Trujillo join reproductions of murals previously painted along the 101, including works by John Werhle, George Sportelli, Ruben Soto and Frank Romero.
"It's a cost effective way to keep art up," said Chandler explaining how Caltrans will not have to close a lane so works can be installed or maintained.
Fitting art within the downtown landscape has Caltrans up against social and cultural issues, he said. "The number one priority is safety. To give commuters a smooth ride to where they have to go. We are trying to best we can without taxpayers costs."
Chandler also stated that there is a hope the murals will begin conversations of art in public space, and the problems of vandalism. That is a debate already underway, and began was when Frank Romero's "Going to the Olympics" was whitewashed in 2007 by Caltrans.
The pilot project was launched in 2010 with support from Wells Fargo, and Chandler states that since the initial installation, only one has been vandalized. It's scheduled to end July 31, 2017 and provide a seven-year study by Caltrans about "the material, framing and imagery for luster, texture and integrity over the targeted life-span."
Top: Mural replica of "Un homenaje a la Mujer Latinoamericana" by Jimmy Centeno. Photo by Helen Ly