Other Voices: Del Oro mural takes the heart out of Grass Valley
There has been some eye rolling and joking about the uproar over the Del Oro mural proposal by John Pugh, but we cannot ignore the fact that there is a real need to have discussion about this very visible piece of art. Certainly, the Del Oro building belongs to its owners, but the mural will be a public image ” an image that labels us, welcomes us, and belongs to us. We have a right, if not a responsibility, to discuss the mural ” how it looks, how much it costs, and what we are getting for that cost.
Now, I’m not unbiased here. I am not a fan of the proposed imagery, not so much because there aren’t enough ore carts or Miner 49’ers depicted, but because the very framing of the image is so destructive looking. The crumbling hole in the Del Oro with its old heart mural torn out and discarded below is just a little too evocative of the heart of Grass Valley itself being torn out only to leave a gaping wound. I’m not sure why anyone thinks that would be a nice image to welcome folks to Grass Valley. I would think that all citizens (and especially all business owners) would want a mural that attracts tourists and shoppers . . . or at least doesn’t actively repel them.
Both the Del Oro and The Union have been complaining about all the uproar, and throwing around the words “internationally acclaimed artist” ” as if that makes the work beyond reproach. There is this implication that only an uneducated boor would dare to dislike it. That is a terrible misunderstanding of what “art appreciation” means. Art is meant to be discussed ” you certainly don’t have to like a Picasso to appreciate it. And clearly, John Pugh is no Picasso, so let’s not start kneeling at the altar of the “internationally acclaimed artist” before we get a little perspective.
For starters, a mural for a libary in New Zealand and one for a cafe in Taiwan doesn’t quite add up to ” international acclaim.” The review of one of his works in Artweek magazine said, “(Pugh’s murals) break through the formal confines of architecture . . . the effect is both Gothic and funereal, as if some abandoned underground vault has been invaded by a mordant but aggressive nature.” Well, the same could be said about the proposed Del Oro mural, and Gothic and/or funereal can’t be quite the look that Grass Valley is going for. It looks great on an angry teen, but I’m not sure about its appeal for the whole community.
Frankly, I don’t think that John Pugh has the international stature that the Del Oro and The Union suggest. While he is certainly an accomplished muralist, I think it is safe to say that in 15 years people will not be making trips to Grass Valley to see the “Pugh mural.” In fact, I think in 15 years no one will know it is “a Pugh.” Now, I don’t say this to insult the artist, but rather to bring a little perspective to the situation (just think of me as Simon Cowell on “American Idol”). After all, $60,000 is a lot of money.
There has also been a lot of hay made over the fact that there will be no public funds spent on the mural. While that is true, it’s not as if the Del Oro owners are paying for it all themselves ” private donors are footing part of the bill. The way I look at it, those local charitable dollars could have gone to a local artist or to so many other deserving charities. I’d hate to think that one of the donors will choose to support the Del Oro mural project this year and not, for example, the Neighborhood Center for the Arts.
In the end, I think there were two questions the Del Oro folks answered before they were ever asked. First, “Do we want a work of art, or do we want a sign (something that simply says, ‘Welcome to Grass Valley, Heart of the Gold Country’?)” And, more importantly, “Should we paint over the old mural in the first place?” I’m thinking the answer to that would have been a resounding “NO!” Alas, that ship has sailed, but the Pugh mural is not yet a done deal. I certainly hope that the community’s voice is given more weight in the final resolution than it has so far.
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