The Case of the Wandering Charles Fries and Ivan Messenger Oils

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: 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: 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: 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...
— May 16, 2011 1:49 p.m.

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