Lake Merritt Mural Artist Sues Over Work’s Destruction

Dan Fontes is asking $400,000 in damages from previous and current property owners.

Almost two years after Dan Fontes’ 98-foot mural celebrating Lake Merritt was painted over, the artist is seeking $400,000 in damages, suing the former and present operators of the car dealership in the building that once held his work, according to the Bay Area News Group.

Fontes painted the mural 28 years ago. He received a $35,000 commission, but personally spent $100,000 to complete the work. The mural depicted Lake Merritt and its surrounding nature on the side of the dealership at 27th Street and Broadway. It was completely painted over in white paint in 2013 by Autocom Nissan of Oakland. At the time, Andrees Sharza, the former senior sales manager of the dealership, told the Oakland Tribune that the mural had become so vandalized and tagged over the years that it “just wasn’t proper.”

Brooke Oliver, Fontes’ attorney, told the Bay Area News Group that painting over the mural is “flat out illegal,” alleging the act was a copyright violation under the Federal Visual Artists Rights Act. The act says building owners must notify the artist if they wish to remove art, and can only proceed with removal if the artist fails to do so within ninety days of receiving notice.

In addition to suing the current owners of the dealership who painted over the mural, Fontes is also suing the past owner, Michael Murphy. Murphy sold the dealership in August 2013 — at the time, the mural sported writing and beige spray paint from vandals.

Oliver told the Bay Area News Group that Fontes had approached the dealership (then still owned by Murphy) about repairing vandalized portions of the mural. But Murphy said that he did not talk to Fontes about the issue — that at the time, he was mourning his late wife and building a charity for her. He added that he was planning on suing the current dealership for involving him in the situation.

Oliver said the dealership has reached out to Fontes about repainting the mural, but has not offered compensation for the work. 
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