Smithsonian Withdraws Offer for LA Murals


Returning to that niggling question of ownership, the Smithsonian announced Saturday that it would withdraw it’s bid to purchase two 1949 mural from a historic building in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.  The Smithsonian’s statement read, “The Museum’s bid – submitted in late 2010 – was in keeping with its strong commitment to obtaining historic and culturally significant works of art on behalf of the American people for exhibition in the nation’s capital and on national tours.”  The murals are being sold as part of the liquidation of the failed insurance company, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co., which has already successfully sold many of the company’s photographs and smaller easel paintings.

The Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co. was the largest black-owned insurance company west of the Mississippi and for many years was the only African American owned corporation in California.  Built from the ground up, by 1946 the company had grown to the point where it needed more space and began construction of a large new home office building on Adams and Western boulevards.  The murals the Smithsonian was seeking to buy were painted on canvas (to protect against earthquake) in 1949 for the lobby of the newly constructed building.

Any mural, removed from the original site it was painted to inhabit, loses some of its meaning and the artists intent.  But, this argument applies also to Renaissance triptychs painted for specific churches or Aztec ceramic statues intended for worship or daily use.  The original company which commissioned the murals is defunct and its founders dead, how would the artwork have more meaning in the original building now occupied by a non-profit organization or in the Smithsonian Institution where it would be safeguarded against harm and preserved for future study?  Also, with the Smithsonian bid no longer on the table, the murals could now be sold to the highest private bidder.  Court hearings will be held Monday to determine whether the murals can be considered on of the company’s assets to be sold in the liquidation process or kept with the building.


About projectpatrimonio

Helena Boyden Lamb, born 1985 in New York, has studied and worked in Politics, Heritage Ethics and Politics, and Opera Singing. Most recently, she is working in Brussels where she started in a European Think Tank and is now the Executive Office of a NGO which facilitates Youth Politics across the EU. She has a Bachelor with Honors from Stanford University, California in Classics: Politics and Heritage and a Masters with Honors from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK in European Identity. She has conducted academic or independent grant-funded research in the UK, France, Italy, Greece, Russia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, and Albania. She was, previously, an archaeologist and an opera singer. Cynthia Querio is a Museum Educator currently living and working in Los Angeles. She is interested in heritage and identity politics and the role of museum education departments in the trajectory of this debate. She moved to Los Angeles to pursue a 9 month graduate internship at the Getty Villa's education department and has continued to work in many museums in Los Angeles including LACMA and the Autry National Center. Her academic background is in the Classics, which was her major at Stanford University and which she continued to pursue with a Masters in the History of Classical Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art.
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