The Stud Artists Sue Over Whitewashed Murals

The painters argue the beige coverup violated the federal Visual Artists Rights Act. 

When The Stud’s iconic murals on 9th Street were whitewashed over the summer, the backlash was instantaneous. For many, the milky beige color that obscured the gay bar’s once colorful paintings represented another loss in the city’s long battle with gentrification. Just a month or so prior, The Stud had to vacate its location because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 17-person collective that owned the space could not justify paying “thousands of dollars in rent and utilities” while bars were unable to open.

The final nail in the coffin came in June, when the new owners of 399 9th St. — City Commercial Investments, LLC — covered up the works of artists Monica Canilao, Xara Thustra, Ellery Bakaitis, Jeremy Novy, Hailey Gaiser, and Susan Greene.

The six have come together to sue City Commercial Investments, LLC, over alleged damages sustained from the erasure. They will be represented by the Erikson Law Group and Gluck Law Firm, the latter of which is notorious for taking on corporations and defending street artists.

The complaint alleges that whitewashing The Stud’s murals caused “great anguish in the community.” According to the plaintiffs, the murals should have been protected under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. 

VARA is meant to protect an artist’s “moral rights” by recognizing their authorship despite anyone else who may hold copyright, or in this instance, any one corporation that might own the building the artwork is painted upon. Under VARA, the art’s “owners” have to give 90 days notice to the artist of a VARA-covered artwork before subsequent removal or modification. There’s been some debate about the effectiveness of VARA, with critics arguing that much of the burden gets placed on the artist when it comes time for removal.

But in this case, the artwork has already been removed. The Stud collective, according to the complaint, hoped to preserve the facade, and “requested info” about the corporation’s plans for the building. But the whitewashing happened unannounced. 

“The Artists and the San Francisco LGBTQ community were harmed, damaged, and outraged that a piece of LGBTQ history was intentionally destroyed during such trying times,” reads the complaint. Just a few days after the whitewashing, some anonymous painters came by and wrote on The Stud’s former wall: “Black Lives Matter… We will not be erased.”

SF Weekly was unable to reach City Commercial Investments, LLC for comment.

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