Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Free Gonzo Stross

Ann Althouse links to this story about a Michigan artist named Ed "Gonzo" Stross who faces a jail term for painting a mural on the wall of his own studio. Background: "In 1997, Stross got permission from the city to paint the 1,100-square-foot mural on an outside wall of Gonzo Fine Arts Studio at Gratiot and Utica roads, but with conditions: no letters, no genitalia and regular maintenance of the artwork." He then proceeded to paint a mural on the wall based on Michalangelo's "The Creation of Man" which -- gasp -- shows one of Eve's breasts. The city claimed that the breast was barred under the agreement, and brought him up on charges of some sort. A jury agreed with the city, and he's been ordered to serve 30 days in jail, pay a $500 fine, and serve two years probation.

His lawyer from the ACLU is, of course, focusing on the bluenosery of the whole thing:

Marlinga said the sentence is absurd given the fact that the mural is based on artwork in the Sistine Chapel and that the part some say is offensive is minimal.

“You would have to be a puritan out of the 16th Century with a magnifying glass in order to spot Eve’s nipples,” Marlinga said.

Yeah, yeah. And as Ann Althouse observed, breasts aren't genitals, at least not if we are talking about humans.

Of course that is all true, but it seems like they're focusing on the piddly stuff. Sure, it's based on a famous painting, but so what? Would it really be any less outrageous if the artwork were wholly original? And sure, only a prude could get all outraged about Eve's boob, but even if it were a giant size picture of Bambi the Stripper with enormous breasts, the case would still be outrageous.

First of all, why the hell is this a criminal case? If he violated an ordinance or broke his agreement, why not bring a civil case, ordering him to paint over the offending mural, or modify it -- paint pasties on Eve's nipples, or the like. Even if you assume that the city has the right to control how people paint their own property, there is no justification at all for criminalizing offending murals.

But I am not willing to make that assumption. I realize that the whole concept of defending property rights is anathema to the ACLU, but it's his own damned building. He should be able to paint it however he wants. Art, advertising, political advocacy, bright garish colors. The government has no business telling people how they decorate the outside of their own buildings.

Maybe you could convince me to allow government restriction of flat out raunchy porn on the wall. But this notion that the local government should be making aesthetic judgments about how people paint their property is just ridiculous. People should be able to do what they want with their own property without getting permission from some idiot bureaucrat.

Oh, and there has to be more to this story. He first got permission in 1997. That means the mural has been up for ten years now. If Eve's boob were that offensive, they'd have noticed it before then. There has to be some new reason the local authoritarians decided to go after this guy now. Some other grievance they have against him.


MikeT said...

I wonder if this is a precursor to something like what has happened in Virginia with the Rack N Roll bar. Looks to me like they were out to get him for something.

Mike said...

This is not the city out to get him. I used to be a supporter of Gonzo, but after all of these years, it's obvious that he is doing this to spite the city and now that I am a Roseville taxpayer, I'm sick of him wasting my tax money on this. Stop painting breasts and things on the wall that you KNOW the city will be against.

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