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In the world of museums and galleries, the history of a work — how it traveled from artist to owner to owner — is referred to as “provenance” and is seen as vital in determining the authenticity and value of an objet d’art. Art historians and collectors alike dwell on the concept. But the City of San Diego refuses to fill in the missing pieces of the provenance puzzle. In late March, I sent my second public records request, which included a narrowly tailored inquiry regarding the two paintings, as well as specific follow-up questions directed at Hubbard. I received from library director Barrow this statement:

“The City performed a reasonable search…and the documents sent to you [two pages]…constitute all of the documents located from that search and we consider this matter closed.”

She also claims that my follow-up request “is not focused [or] specific” and “would create an undue burden on the City.”

Finally, she protests that complying with the records request would “not be an efficient use of taxpayers’ monies.”

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Comments

Railrider May 4, 2011 @ 11:05 p.m.

It would be unfortunate to let this hiding from public viewing of city (taxpayer) owned works of art be allowed to continue. It is even more unfortunate that the Balboa Art Conservation Center is less than forthcoming in providing relevant information to their efforts in preserving these works. I guess they too forget the ultimate source of funds for this work. Perhaps as part of the city's reduction of funding of parks and recreation the Balboa Arts Conservation Center funds should be reduced, or eliminated.

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thoughtfulBear May 16, 2011 @ 1:49 p.m.

Right idea, wrong jurisdiction: WPA (Works Progress Administration) art is federal - not state.

The present-day doorkeeper is the US General Services Administration; an inquiry in that direction, if not already undertaken, would certainly be indicated (good place to start: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/101384).

Charles A Fries and Ivan Messenger are both familiar names to any student of the c1930s San Diego art scene. Both men are represented in the holdings of the San Diego History Center (nee Historical Society; see their research archives), and the San Diego Museum of Art.

In more recent years, San Diego has been rediscovering some of its WPA-era art heritage:

San Diego State University has uncovered at least two large murals, located in what generations of Aztecs (including mine) called the library tower, today's Hardy Memorial Tower.
(Here's one of them: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/oct/05/waterfront-mural-comes-back-to-life-at-sdsu-sdsu/)

And at the waterfront, the historic city-county Civic Center (until 1963, when the city sold it to the county) - itself a WPA project - retains much of its WPA artworks, including one work by Fries. (Check them all out: http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/cob/cacs/art/gallery.html)

Quite a contrast, then, compared to the city's evident reticence to talk up what they have. Why would that be? Doesn't make sense.

Those two paintings were paid for with federal funds, long before any of us were born. WPA art is considered federal property, "on loan."

And the article rightly notes that properly-documented provenance is all-important, in the world of art.

Given all of the above, mentioning the likes of library funding, the homeless (knocking Central Library, yet again), and what a given artwork or artist might be worth in the current market, comes across as oddly discordant.

And yet, one is left to wonder...

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Twister May 23, 2011 @ 10:03 p.m.

This is the tip of the iceberg. As long as forty-plus years ago, the executive offices in City Hall had top-quality art in them; in fact, there was so much of the stuff (a lot of plein-air paintings from the early 20th and late 19th century, if I remember correctly) they had to hang some of it behind secretaries and even in the hallways. Try to find it all now.

All City property should have a property-tag with an inventory number, and the City Clerk is required to maintain records. Those records should be available to any citizen. The last I checked the City Clerk's office was very cooperative in this regard. The Library also should have records or copies of records.

There is no reason for such information to be kept secret from the public. However, information about personell can be another matter. Nonetheless, an investigative reporter worth his or her salt should be able to pry it out of them--their resistance alone is a story in itself. Any appropriation of public property for personal use, even "temporarily," is unlawful.

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thoughtfulBear May 30, 2011 @ 6:54 p.m.

Indeed, the matter of public artwork didn't begin - or end - with Mssrs Fries and Messenger so long ago.

Public artwork originally presented to the City and County, jointly, by the federal WPA folks for the Civic Center would, presumably, have been divided between them when they went their separate ways in the Great Waterfront Divorce.

From the WPA, if nowhere else, there ought to exist some sort of specific identification data for each artwork.

Against this backdrop, it's interesting to note in this weekend's U-T that one of the City's WPA public artworks, "Harbor Night" by Charles Reiffel, is presently to be relocated to what sounds like a more publically-accessible venue (http://www.union-trib.com/news/2011/may/28/harbor-night). Interesting timing, yes?

A good first step, but let's see more to follow. These are the public's "treasures," Mr Young, not just the city's alone.

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