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Don’t mess with large statues

That’s Houston sculptor David Adickes, he of Giant Presidential Heads fame, standing in front of his statue The Virtuoso, which is in the parking lot of the Lyric Center downtown. He’s wearing that Groucho getup to protest the deliberate painting of his cellist’s mustache.

“My first thought was that somehow a graffiti dude had scaled the body 30 feet and sprayed the mustache,” Adickes said. But he soon learned the paint job had been ordered by the office tower’s managers.

“They don’t have the right to abuse, debase or radically change the concept,” Adickes fumed Thursday. “They can’t leave it like that. It’s hideous. It’s Groucho Marx. … You can’t paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa.”


The cellist’s mustache was blackened several weeks ago as workers employed by U.S. Property Management repainted the artwork, which sits on the plaza of the office tower at 440 Louisiana, as part of routine maintenance. Adickes said he learned of the alteration from friends.

Jason Davis, president of U.S. Property Management, said he made the decision to paint the mustache black but offered no further comment. He did not indicate if the mustache will again be painted white.


“Painting the mustache on the David Adickes sculpture is clearly not the ethical thing to do,” said Kim Davenport, director of the Rice University Gallery. “It’s really the same as if someone were to spray paint it, to graffiti it.”

“You could say Leonardo da Vinci is dead and legally the Louvre owns the Mona Lisa, but it doesn’t have the moral right to paint a mustache on her,” added Terrie Sultan, director of University of Houston’s Blaffer Gallery. “Artists are people who have moral rights, too, and those things should not be taken lightly.”

I think the Mona Lisa references are a tad bit over the top here, but the principle is absolutely sound: It’s David Adickes’ work, and it’s wrong to alter it without his permission. It would be one thing if this were in someone’s private collection, but this is a public work. Adickes gives the best reason why Jason Davis should have kept his hands off the statue:

Adickes said he understands that the decision to paint the cellist’s mustache black was made almost on a whim.

“They wanted to see what it would look like, whether anyone would notice,” he said. “I don’t think it was a malicious decision. … But a well-established artwork has a life of its own.

“People are going to think I did this.”

Now that we all know that he didn’t, the statue should be restored to its original state. It’s the right thing to do.

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  1. Ted Barlow says:

    Ugh. There are hard calls and there are easy calls. This is an easy call. They shouldn’t be painting over the statue.

    If they don’t, I have the image of an executive director waking up in terror, with a forty-foot statue of a horse’s head at the foot of the bed…

  2. A Little Levity This Afternoon

    Off the Kuff: Don’t mess with large statues…