Street artists sue AEG in dispute over lost artwork in penthouse [Updated]
This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.
Anschutz Entertainment Group, which sent treasures from King Tut’s tomb around the world without apparent mishap, operates the Grammy Museum and runs the current touring exhibition, “America I Am: The African American Imprint," now stands accused in U.S. District Court of destroying works by street artists Mear One, Chor Boogie and Shark Toof that had been displayed in a penthouse at its Ritz-Carlton Residences at L.A. Live hotel and condo tower.
It wasn’t AEG’s exhibitions wing, but its real estate division, that allegedly mishandled the five artworks, which ranged from 3.5 feet to 8 feet in height, and 12 to 35 feet in width, according to the suit, which was filed Monday and seeks damages under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act and California’s Art Preservation Act.
[Updated, 5:15 Tuesday] In a brief written statement Tuesday, AEG said that the lawsuit does not "accurately or completely set forth the facts of this matter," and that it "looks forward to vigorously defending itself in court."
According to the suit, the episode began with an attempt at synergy between street art and real estate sales: In conjunction with the L.A. Art Show last January at the Los Angeles Convention Center, AEG threw a promotional party with hopes of using the buzz around street artists to recruit well-heeled potential condo buyers.
Curator Bryson Strauss of L.A. Art Machine enlisted the three artists and Shepard Fairey to provide art for a party in the tower's 51st floor penthouse; the suit says Fairey’s contributions sold for $48,000 and were soon removed. But AEG’s condo sales director then asked that the five pieces be allowed to remain for a time, hoping they might continue to impress potential buyers. The suit says Strauss agreed, on condition that when the time came to take them down, the murals would be removed by art-installation professionals under his direct supervision.
Strauss arranged to remove them in early July, only to receive a message from an AEG executive who said he had previously instructed a contractor to remove the murals because "for the longest time [they] were just sitting stacked in the unit…. They can only have ended up in the dumpster.”
The suit says that AEG refused to compensate the artists; they are seeking $150,000 for each lost artwork, as well as punitive damages.
In 2008, Kent Twitchell reached a $1.1 million settlement over the 2006 painting-over of “Ed Ruscha Monument,” a giant mural on a federally owned building in downtown L.A. It’s believed to be the largest award from a case brought under the Visual Artists Rights Act and California Art Preservation Act, whose provisions include penalties for the deliberate or grossly negligent destruction of art.
For the record, 6:40 pm.: An earlier version of this post included an incorrect photographer credit.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: This untitled mural by L.A. street artist Mear One was allegedly destroyed at AEG's Ritz-Carlton development. Credit: Khoi Nguyen/ArrestedMotion.com