Still no news on who authorized the destruction of Kent Twitchell’s The Ed Ruscha Monument in Los Angeles, but LA Times staff writer Christopher Knight reports that Twitchell plans on suing the city for violating the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act, which was enacted “to prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature.” In 1986, Twitchell lost another mural to paint-wielding workers at a billboard company and sued under the California Art Preservation Act, a precursor to VARA; a $175,000 settlement was reached before the case went to trial. “The law can’t bring back his lost masterpiece, but maybe a judgment will temporarily jolt other indifferent oafs into paying attention,” muses Knight, who earlier described the importance of the Ruscha homage:
By 1978, Ruscha’s stature was such that he was routinely identified as the quintessential L.A. artist. He actually was a Pop art giant, and Twitchell’s monumental mural represented him as one.
The painting venerated that historic significance, and it did so while taking splendid advantage of the urban site. Part of the mural’s success came from the way it used the materiality of the huge wall and its physical surroundings, starting with its mode of address. Through scale and placement it spoke to an audience largely passing by in cars, rather than on foot.
Appropriately, the painting showed Ruscha at the western end of a vast horizontal expanse. The deep brown rectangular wall spread out behind him, like a cross between a billboard and a movie screen. The figure was bathed in strong light — coming in at a sharp angle from the West, of course, rather than the East — and it caused the figure to cast a big, stark shadow. Ruscha loomed above an actual parking lot of the type he so famously commemorated in his own radically influential art.
As the photo here shows, the mural had taken a beating the month before it was painted over; contractors doing asbestos-abatement and facade work on the building had damaged the already graffiti-scarred piece (Knight writes that Twitchell was in the early stages of restoring the piece as well). But by one estimate, destruction of the 11,000-square-foot painting could bring damages in excess of $9 million, more if attorney’s and restoration fees are included.