Wyland fights plan
to demolish mural

Milwaukee officials say the artist
waived his rights to the work

MILWAUKEE » The whale-painting artist from Hawaii whose huge marine-mammal mural overlooks a downtown freeway is vowing to protect his creation against a plan to demolish the parking structure he used for a canvas.

"That work of art is federally protected," said Wyland, who goes by his last name, not the full name he used, Robert Wyland, when Milwaukee County approved the mural in 1997. "They cannot tear it down without my permission."

If that means leaving the wall with his mural intact and tearing down the rest of the County Courthouse Annex, so be it, Wyland said from his studio in Honolulu.

"If they can tear that down, they can tear down any piece of public art when they do a construction project," Wyland said. "It sets a terrible precedent if they can do that. It means all public art is endangered."

County Executive Scott Walker contends the state should demolish the annex as part of the massive reconstruction of the downtown Marquette Interchange, a four-year project that has just gotten under way.

He says the annex, a parking garage that needs frequent repairs because of deteriorating materials, will not withstand vibration from heavy work on the freeway below it.

The state Department of Transportation argues that the interchange work will not require demolishing the annex, and the state will not pay to raze it.

Although no decision on the demolition has been announced, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday that an item on the Wisconsin Film Office's Web site was offering the demolition for film shoots as if it were a done deal.

Wyland, who donated his mural to the city, was contacted by the newspaper and informed of the plan.

He said the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act gives an artist the right "to prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature, and any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of that work is a violation of that right."

However, county Corporation Counsel William Domina produced records showing Wyland waived his rights under the federal law when he signed the contract with the county in 1997.

Walker aide Steve Mokrohisky said the county executive would be open to consider saving the wall with the mural, but only if private donations paid for it. He said Walker does not want county tax dollars spent on demolishing the annex or on saving the mural.

"This has never been about a piece of art," Mokrohisky said. "It's about the annex and public safety, and that's the way we approached it."

Wyland's mural was part of a planned series of 100 works celebrating whales. He has completed 91 murals in 70 cities in eight countries.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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