LISTEN TO AN EXPERT
About two weeks ago, the seven members of our School Board (whose vote determines what gets painted on that wall at Lincoln and Ocean Park after it is repaired, where the Muir Woods Mural has been since 1978), plus SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati and a couple of other people, received a remarkable weigh-in from an expert on murals in LA. I was able to obtain a copy.
Southern CA-based architectural historian Daniel Paul stated he has 13 years’ experience with CEQA/NEPA and Section 106 Regulatory compliance and over 25 years’ experience in the historic preservation field, and has undertaken historic assessment and preservation efforts related to multiple murals and other forms of public art. He cited two well-known examples in LA, where his assessment prevailed and the art was restored and preserved.
To further establish his credentials, he wrote, “I am considered a West Coast, if not national expert, on the subject of 1970s-era Late-Modern architecture in the United States. I have lectured about it across the US and Europe and have published a series of articles and technical documents, including the City of Los Angeles ‘SurveyLA’ historic context statements and registration requirements for evaluating all Late-Modern and Postmodern architecture in Los Angeles.”
THE ‘70S — WHO KNEW?
Too soon to be historic and precious, right? Paul doesn’t think so.
“In my 1970s-specific preservation and context efforts,” he wrote, “I have become intimately acquainted with a certain phenomenon—and I very much wonder if it’s at work here and now, with the Muir Woods Mural. To many people now in power — city council members, commissioners, planners, city managers, and even local historic preservationists — 1970s aesthetics are simply not to their liking, with latent or explicit decisions made to eradicate that decade’s work. Some write the whole decade off as the disco era, or with ‘I lived through the 1970s: how can that be historic?’ Some of the slights are funny, but this is real, and happens all the time.
“Works of this era are perceived as no longer new, but not old enough to be considered historically significant. They are therefore extremely vulnerable: much more vulnerable than considerably older buildings or public artworks.”
Taste runs in cycles, he wrote. In the ‘50s, Victorian architecture was despised as many embraced International Style Modernism and undertook destructive urban renewal. In the late ‘60s, “to embrace Craftsman architecture was bohemian. In the 1980s, Mid-Century Modernism, so extremely popular now, was against the taste cycle, as those in power preferred more opulent, sensory versions of later Postmodernism.”
But all these design systems, he wrote, “always return to vogue, and once they do, they never, ever fully fall out of favor again. Right now the 1970s era is on the verge of this return.
“THE MUIR WOODS MURAL
hearkens back to certain art and design trends of that era worth mentioning. The all-over design is akin to decade trends in ‘Supergraphics,’ used to enhance
both the all-over treatment of forest-on-wall, and the close-in counterpoint for the sidewalk pedestrian, placed within the woods. The Muir Woods Mural possesses select qualities of ‘70s-era ‘Photorealism,’ a movement that eschewed 1960s era Minimalism in favor of vantage points and technical renderings captured by the camera.
“But perhaps even more than that, the Muir Woods Mural also hearkens back to the historically important 1970s-era Pattern and Decoration movement that questioned commonly accepted notions of ‘high art’ in favor of decorative artmaking modes traditionally associated with femininity. The Muir Woods Mural possesses a patterned, all-over, wallpaper-like handling of the woods, tree trunks in particular, forming a rather unique perspective in which the sidewalk viewer is placed.”
“Offhand,” continued Paul, “I know of no other mural in Southern California that hearkens to Pattern and Decoration quite this way. Through this intimate perspective and its close-in reading of unadorned nature, I feel this mural as a feminist artwork.
“It is doubtful that any replacement mural would have the same resonance that the Jane Golden mural has through time earned and acquired. An environmental mural presaging by decades the present and global concern for such matters, and an environmental mural that hearkens back to a more activist and less technocratic chapter in Santa Monica history, the Muir Woods Mural is already the intrinsically right and telling mural for this wall.
“Even though the mural is not yet 50 years old, it clearly hearkens back to another historical chapter. Resonant, analog images such as this are embraced as authentic in this present image age. Such authenticity is not replicated by a new design, and digital youth knows the difference. To maintain authenticity upon the Muir Woods Mural, through repainting, it must be accurately restored, not modified or otherwise revised.”
“A mural of this vintage, a mural this visionary, a mural that is not trying to be the new and ultimately disposable hip young thing, the Muir Woods Mural shall speak absolute volumes to this forthcoming generation.
“Not just the subject itself, but the mural’s resonance, how strongly it expresses its own historic era while in a visionary manner presaging the present one, is what makes the Muir Woods Mural different, even pure, and therefore potentially and most likely, beloved.”
I’ve always had a feeling about that mural. Now I know a bit more about why.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com