On Saturday, a Philadelphian decided to buff the Kurt Vile mural, causing shrieks of horror from hip Philadelphians and a Philadelphia public art meme.
People have said the reaction is overblown, but (1) it’s good when people discuss and debate public art and (2) of course it is. Literally everything on the Internet, even the most serious issues, can get overblown — there’s no sense complaining about it. But, sure, this isn’t the nose of the Old Man in the Mountain collapsing — the defacer has already apologized and even the artist says you should calm down. ESPO, aka Steve Powers, was similarly undisturbed about psychylustro covering up. “Nobody writing [graffiti] cares and any attempt to make it appear otherwise is click bait,” he told Hidden City (the Buzzfeed of Philadelphia Buildings, I guess) in May.
That is a point to take: Graffiti by its very nature is a transient art form, and murals come and go, too. David Guinn — who has more good murals in the city than anyone — once had four seasons in South Philadelphia. Now there are only three. The enormous Frank Sinatra mural is gone. Both were covered up by new residential construction, which is a better use of space than a mural. This one just disappeared in a more fantastic fashion. (And, obviously, the uproar was so great that it will be fixed up.)
But the mural got me thinking. I have passed the Kurt Vile mural several times where someone comments about how — while it’s cool — the mural is also an ad for his latest album. That’s weird, no? Did we paint a Boyz II Men album in the mid-’90s? (Not that they needed the increased sales.) A mural that’s also an ad is not exactly the end of the world: We have a mural for Jane Seymour’s jewelry line, after all, and a Vile album ad is certainly a better choice than that. But it got me thinking about other Philadelphians who deserve a mural, perhaps ones who aren’t selling anything. Time for some jokes mixed in with real suggestions!
Sherman Hemsley. The actor grew up at 22nd and Christian and, after a stint in the Air Force, worked at the post office in Philadelphia. Hemsley, who died in 2012, played George Jefferson for 15 episodes on All in the Family and 253 on The Jeffersons. Then he starred as Deacon Ernest Frye on Amen, a show set in his own hometown. Yes, he was a star on television, the least respected of the visual arts. If we’re going to honor our athletes with murals, we might as well have a mural for the star of The Jeffersons, an influential and funny show. He even modeled George’s walk on a typical South Philadelphia strut.
The Roots, but we could do it back in 2002, when their fifth album came out, so it’d be like the Kurt Vile mural. This would be tough — I’m not sure time travel has been invented yet — but I think it’s only fair.
Or, we could put up a second Roots mural now, but it could be about the new album. The reason? The Roots’ latest album, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, contains just six Black Thought verses. How did this happen?
Benjamin Franklin. It’d be nice if there were finally some public art dedicated to this man in this city.
ECW. Speaking of things that don’t get any respect, Philadelphia has long been a hotbed for the art of scripted violence: professional wrestling. The 1990s wrestling boom was driven by national companies WWF (now WWE) and WCW, but many of the two promotions companies’ ideas were clearly influenced by Extreme Championship Wrestling. The Philly-based ECW promoted extreme, no-rules matches and wild, soap opera-like story lines. The promotion declared bankruptcy and was purchased by WWE. There’s a giant blank wall on the old ECW Arena. Put a wrestling mural there, and attract wrestling dorks to Philadelphia from around the world to take photos. I’m serious, this would probably happen.
Summer beer gardens. Philadelphia’s newest, drunkest trend surely deserves its own mural already. They could paint a salute to summer beer gardens in an empty lot, then open a beer garden in the lot. It’s a no-brainer.
Terry Gross. This is going to happen eventually, so we might as well do this public radio public art sooner rather than later. Sorry, Sandy.
Edward “Babe” Heffron. Really, we should have capitalized on the success of HBO’s Band of Brothers by painting this mural to one of the main brothers in the band, a South Philly native, years ago.
Okay, that’s enough. As usual, you can sort out which of these should actually happen. Thanks!
Follow @dhm on Twitter.