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Olvera Street's hidden 'America Tropical' mural resurfaces

October 9, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A masterpiece that had been hidden for decades in the historic Olvera Street plaza in downtown Los Angeles came back to life Tuesday.

The 80-year-old mural titled "America Tropical" by muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros is on the exterior rooftop wall of the Italian Hall building at the corner of North Main Street and East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue. It tells a story about the development of artistic freedom in America and about Los Angeles' early history.

"It has at its centerpiece a crucified indigenous Indian with the American eagle perched above, and in the corner are two sharpshooters, one Peruvian and one (from) Mexico, which together symbolized the oppression of indigenous peoples by their colonial American oppressors," said Susan MacDonald, the head of field projects at the Getty Conservation Institute.

The artwork commissioned by overseers of the historic Olvera Street plaza, called El Pueblo at the time, was supposed to be a welcoming piece of art for visitors of the plaza shopping for fruit. Instead, it created controversy and was whitewashed until the city and the Getty Conservation Institute spent nearly $10 million to restore it.

"Within the first two years of its life it was partly white washed over, and within 10 years had been completely whitewashed and therefore it was no longer visible to the public," MacDonald said. "It wasn't the type of mural that the people who were responsible for managing El Pueblo had envisioned. They wanted a much more idealized scene that fitted with the Mexican marketplace of El Pueblo."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that by conserving and displaying "America Tropical," the city was repaying its debt and honoring Siqueiros and his work.

"The Getty Conservation Institute's team through scientific analysis, very careful historic research and best conservation practices has been able to reawaken Siqueiros' artistry, revived the clarity of the painting's iconography and reveal the power of its message once again," said Timothy Whalen, the Getty Conservation Institute director.


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