Six Artists Are Suing a Property Owner for Painting Over Beloved Murals at a Famed San Francisco Gay Bar During Pride Month

For the past three years, San Francisco’s oldest gay bar, The Stud, has been adorned with colorful murals with evocative titles such as “Stepping Out” and “Head First,” referring to the distinctive marine exterior of the San Francisco Pride Week Bar Painted The murals provided the backdrop for countless selfies outside the bar, which had been in business for over 50 years and had resided on the corner of 9th and Harrison Streets for a third of a century.

But when the bar went out of business in May, the murals weren’t long for this world. On June 20th, during Pride Month 2020, they were whitewashed by the new owners before the building was painted beige.

Currently, six artists are suing the owner, dubbed City Commercial Investments, for damages under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), a law cited in high-profile cases like the lawsuit against the owners of the 5Pointz graffiti in Mecca, Queens , New York, where a judge awarded a group of artists $ 6.75 million after their work was destroyed by a property developer.

The artists in this case – Monica Canilao, Zarathustra Wesolowski, Ellery Bakaitis, Jeremy Novy, Susan Greene, and Haily Gaiser – are represented by Los Angeles attorney Jeff Gluck, who often represents street performers against companies that use their work without their consent.

“These beloved murals have been stolen from this community in the worst possible way,” Gluck told Artnet News in an email. “As we saw in the recent landmark 5Pointz decision, the law is clear here. We encourage the other side to step up now and do the right thing. “

The lawsuit accuses City Commercial Investments of negligence, willful destruction of works of art and violation of integrity and attribution rights. The law provides for damages of up to $ 150,000 per artwork destroyed. Some of the artists involved in the suit had painted several works.

The lawsuit, filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court in Northern California, says the bar’s owners even asked the new owners to allow the artwork to be preserved and that passers-by asked the overpainting images to stop.

Overall, the destruction has shown [the owners’] clear contempt and humiliation of the artists and the LGBTQ community in San Francisco, ”the lawsuit says.

Experts who spoke to Artnet News pointed out that the claim depends on a certain legal language.

“An important question that comes to mind when assuming deliberate destruction is why property owners act this way, especially given the amount of information available on other similar cases where property owners compete against artists,” the New said York lawyer and copyright expert Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento. Artnet News informed those who are not involved in the case by e-mail. “These property owners just don’t want to get legal advice from lawyers? Or are they just ignoring the advice when they do this? “

Amy Adler, a law professor at New York University, had similar questions.

“Most people don’t know about VARA,” she said. “It’s only been around since 1990, and it’s inconsistent with deep American notions of what it means to own property and the idea that you can do what you want with it when you own something. Even so, the owner was obviously given poor or no advice. “

A City Commercial Investments attorney did not respond to Artnet News’ request for comment.

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