Dragon breath burns business?

Mike Smash

mural Inheritors of the Dragon, mosaic, created by Mike Smash with DHS kids in 2002. The building owner has now covered the head of the dragon to prevent it from bringing bad luck to business. I don’t know when this picture was taken, but the dumpster in front of the mural is a sure sign of earlier disrespect. Maybe that’s why the dragon has brought bad luck! The mural is a project of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

A casual conversation with muralist Mike Smash at a party Saturday at the home of good friend Deborah Zuchman on the subject of community input and public art and gallery art, led to today’s Dan Rubin Is it a dragon or a scapegoat column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The column is about the endangered dragon mural at 12th & Washington, currently partly hidden by a draped blue cloth. Murray, an ex-Inquirer reporter, passed the story on.

I had noticed the draperies over the glitzy dragon and had assumed the roof at the mall was leaking. I loved the back story.


Art culture, our culture

What interests me most about this story is the cultural divides–not just Asian group A and Asian group B, but business vs. superstition, landlord vs. tenant, mural enabler at the time of inviting Mural Arts to provide the mural vs. the mural enabler having to follow through with the responsibilities of respecting and maintaining it. To put this another way, the mural has gotten in the way of business from the landlord’s point of view. And it’s business uber alles to businessmen.

If you build it vs. if you paint it


Business always wins in these mural issues. Although some people may squawk when new buildings obscure old murals, the new buildings always take precedence. Even the original Sidney Goodman I Contain Multitudes lost to progress and the Red Cross. The new building is up, and the Red Cross, with some arm twisting and money from Mural Arts, acceded to putting up a smaller version on the front of their building. But it’s not only less than a quarter of the size of the original, it’s thoroughly diminished in punch and quality–a nice object lesson in the importance of scale and background to a work of art. (The original mural is still on the wall, hidden by the building, and some day, someone will discover it, perhaps, and say look at this amazing painting that’s been covered over by time and the changing city).

Mural constituents

Mostly the murals that go up are admired, treasured and even remain graffiti free. In other words, the communities are their constituencies. In the case of the dragon, it has lost the support of its chief constituent–the landlord. No doge, no mural. The mural has long been disrespected by this landlord, who has consistently plopped a dumpster right in front of it. Furthermore, this particular mural is caught in a certain lack of communication about its role as a talisman for good luck, expected to breathe life into the business it adorns. From the point of view of those of us who don’t believe a dragon image can serve this function, its remove seems irrational. But from the point of view of the business couple behind its commission, it looks like the dragon didn’t take care of business as they had expected.


So farewell dragon–if it has earned no wider constituency than the landlord and Mural Arts. That’s what I call unlucky.