West Palm mural mystery: Was graffiti vandalism or publicity stunt?

WEST PALM BEACH — Call it a mural mystery.

Over the holidays, someone spray-painted the words “This is not art” across a mural that was part of the Canvas Outdoor Museum, an art festival held downtown in November.

The graffiti wasn’t up very long. The Downtown Development Authority removed it, so the mural — on the back of a building at 330 Clematis St. — is back to its original glory.
But the incident raises questions. Was it vandalism or a publicity stunt by the artist? And if it was indeed vandalism, might it discourage artists from participating in future outdoor art programs?

The pink mural, visible looking north from Datura Street, shows three cartoon faces with dollar bills in the mouth, eyes and ears — a play off the saying “Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.’’

It was painted by Los Angeles-based artist Kai Guetta, who goes by “Kai.’’ Go to the artist’s website, kaiart.com, and the cover page includes a curious marketing headline: “This is not art.”

Guetta said he had nothing to do with the graffiti and was discouraged to learn that his mural had been defaced.

He suggested that one of his admirers might have been responsible for “tagging” the mural. “If I would have done it, I would have at least made the lettering pretty,’’ he said.

Guetta, who is in Los Angeles, said he worried the vandalism will prompt local officials to remove his mural.

In November, Guetta claimed that Canvas organizer Nicole Henry told him the mural would have to be painted over because she said, according to him, that it was “too controversial.”

“She said, ‘I think we’re going to have to paint your wall white. A lot of people in the city are upset with the mural and don’t like it,’’’ said Guetta, who mentions the incident on his website.

Henry denied making that comment. She said she only told Kai that the mural was different from what organizers were expecting, but she never threatened to remove it.

Henry said there are no immediate plans to paint over any mural.

“Street art is not permanent art. It is always changing,’’ Henry said. “Sometimes it changes legally and sometimes it changes illegally.”

Vandals shattered beer bottles against one outdoor mural in November. But Raphael Clemente, the DDA’s executive director, said vandalism is unlikely to discourage artists.

“There’s been a lot of graffiti all around the city. … But I don’t think this is anything more than just taggers, a bunch of young kids who wanted some notoriety,’’ Clemente said.

Source: My Palm Beach Post


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