California artist stands behind banned mural

Tuesday, March 24, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A civil rights lawsuit is accusing the city parks commission of censorship for banning a Venice Beach mural that depicts media vultures watching a family pursued by a wild boar.


“The commission violated Richard Taylor's constitutional rights by basing its decision on the political message of the work,” attorney Stephen Rohde said Monday.


Rohde filed the lawsuit on Thursday in U.S. District Court on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. Among other things, the suit seeks an injunction to prevent the city from blocking Taylor's work.


Lee Nichols, a spokesman for the city Recreation and Parks Commission, said he was unfamiliar with the lawsuit but that a statement would be forthcoming.


Mark Brown, a legal adviser to the commission, said that he has not seen the lawsuit and, at this time, has no response or official statement.


Taylor, 23, brought his concept to the commission for approval in November. His mural depicted a family, possibly of immigrants, being pursued by a wild boar as vultures holding TV cameras filmed the scene.


Taylor told the committee that the boar could represent “corrupt elected officials,” according to the suit.


“This is my political idea of what I see going on around me every day and it's my First Amendment right to be able to portray this,” he said.


Taylor's work was destined for placement in an area of the city called the Venice Graffiti Pit, which already has had a controversy over censorship. Last year, the five-member parks commission voted unanimously to cover up a mural that featured a baton-wielding pig in a police officer's uniform. The mural was just steps away from a Police Department substation.


That mural had not been approved by the commission. The pit historically was a walled area where people painted images without any official approval.


However, the city works with the Social Public Art Resources Network to coordinate projects for the contested wall.


Rohde said the ACLU lawsuit embodies principles the courts have used to strike down content-based restrictions imposed in 1991 by Congress on those receiving grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.


“Once a city opens a public forum such as the Venice Graffiti Pit, it cannot deny artists the right to exhibit based on an artist's point of view,” Rohde argued.