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Public-Private Collaboration Will Conserve Controversial Mural In El Pueblo Historic Monument

August 2, 2006

LOS ANGELES—Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and Councilmember José Huizar today joined Deborah Marrow, Interim President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Timothy Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), and Joan Weinstein, Interim Director of the Getty Foundation, to announce a public-private collaboration to finalize conservation efforts on and provide public access to América Tropical, an internationally renowned "lost" mural located at the El Pueblo Historic Monument.

The $7.8 million public-private investment will go towards the completion of the conservation of the mural, the construction of a protective shelter and viewing platform, a visitor bridge, and the installation of an interpretive center to place the mural in its historical and artistic context. Additionally, the Getty Conservation Institute will provide for annual monitoring of the condition of the mural by GCI staff for a period of ten years following completion of construction.

The Getty Foundation has made a $3.95 million commitment to the project and Mayor Villaraigosa allocated $3.75 million to the project as part of this year's (2006-2007) budget. The remaining costs will be covered by previously approved City funds.

"The people of the City of Los Angeles will finally be able to view this cultural treasure long obscured from sight," said Mayor Villaraigosa. "The mural, while controversial in its time, will allow adults and children of all ages to learn about and appreciate the diverse history of this City, the importance of freedom of artistic expression, and the origins of the muralist movement in this City. I'm proud that the City of Los Angeles and the Getty have come together to make this important investment in public art."

"We are pleased to partner with the City of Los Angeles to preserve this monumental work of 20th-century art," says Deborah Marrow.  "América Tropical ignited the mural movement in this city, and it has significant artistic, historic, and educational value. It is a major cultural asset for both art professionals and the Los Angeles community at large."

América Tropical was painted by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1932 on the outside second-story wall of Olvera Street’s Italian Hall. Commissioned by a gallery owner to relate the theme "tropical America," Siqueiros had no intention, he later said, of painting "a continent of happy men, surrounded by palms and parrots, where the fruit voluntarily detached itself to fall into the mouths of the happy mortals."

When the 80-by-18 foot mural was unveiled, the images included an Indian crucified on a double cross with an American eagle above him, set in front of a Maya-like pyramid.  In the upper right-hand corner of the mural, two revolutionary soldiers were depicted, one pointing his rifle at the eagle.

At the time, the city's artists praised the work for having "guts," but many others, including civic leaders, reacted negatively to the aesthetic and political content. The gallery owner who commissioned the mural was forced to cover over the most visible third with white paint. Within a year, the entire mural was painted over.

Conservation of the mural began in 1988 when the City and the Getty entered into a partnership. In 1991, the GCI installed an environmental monitoring station adjacent to the mural to collect data on the surrounding environmental conditions. From 1993 to 1994, the GCI conducted an investigation of the organic paint components. Also in 1993, GCI staff digitally documented the mural to provide thorough documentation of the state of the mural’s surface. In 1995, the walls of the Italian Hall – including that on which the mural is painted – were seismically stabilized by the City of Los Angeles.  In 1997, the GCI undertook a thorough condition survey of the mural in preparation for final conservation efforts.  In 2002, the mural was stabilized after the old shed was removed.

Tim Whalen says, "We've had an ongoing commitment to conserve this remarkable mural both in terms of financial support and technical expertise for nearly 20 years. It will be terrific to see the project come to fruition and to provide visitors to Olvera Street the opportunity to view the mural for the first time in nearly 75 years and to learn about Siqueiros, and the tradition of mural painting in LA."

Adds Whalen, "I also want to acknowledge the support the GCI has received from the Friends of Heritage Foundation and the Norton Family Foundation on this project. We thank them for their contributions."

Councilmember Huizar adds, "It is so exciting to finally reach this point and be able to display this historic treasure which will be protected for generations to come. The "América Tropical" is one of the world’s greatest examples of cultural and social art that has important historical significance."

Completion of the project is expected in late 2009.

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John Giurini
Getty Communications Dept.


Elizabeth Kivowitz
Mayor's Office

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