HOLMBERG: How many offbeat murals are enough for RVA?

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RICHMOND, Va. - Since the beginning of the mural surge in RVA, I’ve been doing stories, filming, climbing scaffolds, interviewing the local painting stars and the famous ones who have come from around the world to share their art and vision with a town than has appeared stodgy, despite its artsy, edgy rep.  (Thanks largely to our music scene and Virginia Commonwealth University’s art schools.)

Between the Richmond Street Art Festivals and the Richmond Mural Project – which just finished another round of murals and is shooting for another 40 or so – there are well over 100 murals in the River City.

More than a few cover eyesore walls and buildings.

Many business and property owners volunteer their walls.

Collectively, they’re supposed  to brand Richmond as a cool, art city, a visual destination that captures the essence of the worldwide mural movement.

(You can see the vision of the Richmond Mural Project here: http://www.artwhino.com/exhibitions-1/2014-richmond-mural-project)

But here’s a question I don’t hear anyone else asking:

When is enough?

I know I’m sticking my neck right into the hipster guillotine, but I’ve soaked most of them up and am feeling pretty full.

Maybe it’s because – to me – most of them don’t seem very warm. I’m not feeling heart. I feel this cool (if not cold) blend of graffiti, tattoo art and sci-fi, absolutely beautifully rendered for sure, but oh-so quirky and edgy and ambiguous.

Yes, art is subjective. And I guess I have terrible taste in art for not loving all of these. (Yes, I do really like some.)

Everyone has different tastes. That’s the beauty of art museums. They bring in different artists and styles to challenge and thrill and engage us. And, yes, sometimes make us uncomfortable.

And then the exhibit changes. Or we can walk to the next room.

These murals are right there. Adjusting the feng shui of our city in a longtime way - tattooing it, if you will - without the same kind of process that public art typically has to go through.

Anyone who knows me at all knows I prefer things to be somewhat renegade. The little public art that has been put up through the usual committees and juried competitions has left me way colder than these murals have.

The question here isn’t really whether these murals are art.

It’s how many are enough?

Most of the younger people I’ve talked with say they’d love to see a lot more.

What do you think?

It’s a conversation worth having. Even though these paintings are the work of the individual artists, they also represent RVA.


  • Jay

    Good report. Like many trends/fashions/periods, by trying so hard to be different, they all sort of feel the same. Hope some talented artists give this some thought. Are there any Impressionist left? I love city-scape art; but, many areas tend to reflect a specific expectation. Caribbean Art is a good example. Brazil did a fairly good job this past year and highlighted the work of several styles throughout the FIFA World Cup cities. There’s still plenty of empty canvases around town to do something truly original.

  • mbaker9105

    I had my family visit a short time back, and was showing them all the great and interesting sites and other things around and in Richmond, but after a bit they finally wondered why this stuff was painted all over the place. They said they didn’t mind the art so much as it was all over the place, and the quantity made the place look kind of trashy, and that maybe there should be some more history oriented art, like maybe a large one of Patrick Henry, etc. I remember there was something similar to that years ago on one of the building in the old parking lot at the bottom of the slip. Put it this way: I like some flowers planted on my property, but I don’t want the whole yard full! And everyone with a tad bit of age on them and has lived in the country knows that your cut-in-half white painted car tires lining your driveway may look great to you, but not everyone is going to enjoy looking at that :)

    • Jay

      Pretty insightful. Even the old Cigarette ads had a certain appeal, though no longer PC. Love to see a Naturalist have at it…..how ’bout the Virginia mountains in the Fall? And PLEASE, lets never appoint an Art Commission as the survey suggest.

  • Matt Elliott

    I’ve always liked Mark Holmerg’s pieces. He has a valid question in this piece. I personally enjoy the new murals around town. I also know that they can eventually be painted over if need be.

    • REAL Art Lover ;>

      They oughta paint a picture of Mark Holmberg on one of the buildings! Preferably a picture a couple of stories high looking like he is investigating a news story! LOL! Seriously! ;>

    • Arthur Brill

      Murals can not be “painted over if need be”. There is something called the Artist’s Visual Rights Act.

      In 2008, Kent Twitchell (an American muralist) settled a case under VARA and California’s Art Preservation Act (CAPA), in which he was awarded approximately $1,100,000 for the destruction (painting over) of his 70-foot-tall landmark mural of the iconic L.A. artist Ed Ruscha

      Artists can sue if their murals are painted over.

  • Chris

    Mark, thank you for asking this question. You make several valid points which some in the art community do not even consider.

    • Jay

      The City of Richmond department is not known for artistic spontaneity. Go online and read the monthly meeting agendas/minutes. The color of bureaucracy.

  • Semper Fidelis

    Mark I want to say “Thank you” for what you do. The deeper concern is as you stated “But here’s a question I don’t hear anyone else asking:”

  • Jim

    I love all the public art, no matter how strange. I do also like the suggestion of having some art w/ RVA or historical themes (even if they’re abstract pieces). Balancing it out would help the cause.

  • Mo Fiscal conservatism

    I actually agree with Mark. Notice how all of the supporters are the same tattooed, liberal, pot smoking Liberals. I say, let the majority win. And my vote is, we have enough.

  • Dee Cee

    There is an “odd” one located on top of the Subway at North 8th Street downtown. Umm, not the most appealing thing to look at while you are getting a meal…

  • Wayne

    It’s beginning to look like Detroit. Enough of the “street” art, and playing to the low end masses. How about a revival of quality art like Bryan Park’s azalea gardens, Hollywood Cemetery, art deco monuments e.g. the nickel bridge, and other lasting contributions that serve to improve the environments in which they are placed, erected or painted? The expression of some of the mural art at the bus station is deplorable and has not enhanced this blighted property. The highest and best use of the bus station is to level the buildings and install environmentally friendly and contributory parking lots for fan area businesses and Carytown.

  • REAL Art Lover ;>

    I agree with Wayne who posted here. I have been totally DISGUSTED with the kinds of murals being painted! To me they look like [you know what and it is a negative term ;>]! To me, they look like somebody had a bad LSD trip and tried to paint it. I don’t mind the artists having painted murals but they should have been murals portraying historical scenes, people of fame with Richmond and Virginia connections, things of beauty and so forth. They need to paint over the current murals and start again with art worth looking at, not this sicko stuff (IMHO) which has been painted.

  • Mark W

    I love the work of great muralists like Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton. Unfortunately, about 90% of the murals in Richmond are unprofessional attempts created mainly for shock value.

  • Arthur Brill

    Portland, Oregon, arguably one of the country’s most progressive and supportive arts communities, has a very stringent mural policy which requires public hearings to allow input from neighbors who will have to look at the proposed mural every day. I’ve done a great deal of research on murals, legal conflicts, and practices in communities around the country. I have no doubt Richmond will be used as an example to other communities as to merits and pitfalls of various mural policies.

  • Mo Fiscal conservatism

    I guess there’s nothing wrong with “glorified graffiti” in certain areas. But it really can bring down the value of a city, or keep it down.

  • libertarian

    Odd posts. I assume the property owners gave permission for the murals. Where are all of the conservatives defending personal property rights?

  • John Cobb

    Dear Mark,
    Great report on the prolific amount of murals in the city of Richmond. There is one on the Northside of Richmond that you may want to look at, that is on the side of the Northside Outreach center food pantry. It is very thought provoking and I think it may help expand all of our thought processess on this issue. John Cobb

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