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Artists Sue Over Loss of Two Los Angeles Murals

October 01, 1988|ZAN DUBIN

Nearly two years after the "Old Woman of the Freeway" mural was painted over, artist Kent Twitchell has sued the property owner who he claims destroyed his once immensely popular artwork overlooking the Hollywood Freeway.

The suit, seeking "at least $120,000" and restoration of the mural, was filed by Twitchell's lawyer in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, along with another suit charging that Shell Oil Co. destroyed a Boyle Heights mural it commissioned in 1980 from three artists known as East Los Streetscapers. That artwork was painted on a concrete wall torn down in May.

Both suits claim that the defendants violated California Civil Code section 987, known as the art preservation act. The act states that if an artwork can be removed from a building without damage to the artwork, a building owner who intends to alter or deface the artwork must attempt to notify the artist before doing so.

Amy L. Neiman, the artists' pro bono attorney, said that an art restoration expert has assured her that Twitchell's mural, visible for 12 years to northbound drivers on the Hollywood Freeway near downtown, could have been and still can be removed without harm from its West Temple Street building, owned by plaintiff Koichi Kurokawa.

"Because the mural can be removed, Kurokawa had to have given Kent notice and an opportunity to take (the mural) down," Neiman said. "(Kurokawa) didn't do that."

Twitchell, who hopes to strip the block-out paint and install the mural he painted in homage to his great-grandmother elsewhere--in a "friendly place so that the community can have it back"--said he hadn't wanted to sue. But countless calls to Kurokawa and attempts at negotiation proved fruitless, he said.

"I kept hoping (Kurokawa) would just allow (the mural) to be uncovered or removed or something, but he refused to talk to anybody. . . . This is such a humble law. It just says if someone is going to destroy an artwork, please notify the artist."

Kurokawa could not be reached for comment.

David Botello, one of the East Los Streetscapers, said that the mural "Filling Up On Ancient Energies," painted on a 1,030-square-foot wall made of concrete blocks at 400 S. Soto St., could have been removed without undue damage and reassembled elsewhere.

"The whole wall could have been cut apart in sections and lifted away with its foundation and all," he said. "I know it. I've built (concrete) block walls before."

Neiman said that East Los Streetscapers, whose address was painted on the mural, are suing Shell Oil Co. for "at least $125,000," because the company did not notify the artists and "because that mural cannot be restored now. They've destroyed it."

A Shell spokeswoman said that the Houston-based oil company had not received a copy of the suit yet, "and therefore we cannot possibly comment. However it is our policy not to comment on pending litigation."

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