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Protesters and artist Gilberto Guzman, in blue vest, join hands during a demonstration last year to preserve the mural on the Halpin Building.

A federal judge in Albuquerque has declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would halt the removal of Gilberto Guzman’s mural in downtown Santa Fe, saying the artist’s petition failed to meet the criteria for such a measure.

Guzman’s federal lawsuit seeking permanent protection for the mural and ownership interests under the Visual Rights Act is still pending, according to court records. But U.S. District Judge Kea W. Riggs’ ruling means the mural’s future is tenuous while the lawsuit works its way through the legal system.

The Halpin Building, on which the 40-year-old mural is painted, is scheduled to be renovated and turned into the Vladem Contemporary, a satellite branch of the New Mexico Museum of Art that will feature modern art. The decision to remove the mural as part of changes to the building has been a source of controversy, with opponents charging it’s another example of gentrification in Santa Fe.

Department of Cultural Affairs officials have said the mural will be “retired as part of the renovation” and the department plans to “acknowledge the mural and its history with a display” inside the museum.

Guzman filed a lawsuit in March, asking the court to issue a temporary injunction — which would become permanent if his lawsuit were successful — to prevent the Department of Cultural Affairs and the city of Santa Fe from taking any action to “remove, alter, deface, modify, mutilate, or destroy” the mural without his permission while his lawsuit is pending.

But Riggs wrote in an April 16 order she couldn’t issue a preliminary injunction, in part because Guzman failed to present evidence he would be irreparably harmed by the destruction of the mural.

The judge’s order also says Guzman failed to convince the court he had a likelihood of prevailing on Visual Rights Act arguments in his case, noting the law didn’t become effective until 1991, more than a decade after the mural’s creation in 1980.

“The only evidence in the record reflects that the mural has reached the end of its natural life,” Riggs wrote.

“[Guzman] does not submit anything in the record to suggest that the mural has not reached the end of its natural life,” Riggs wrote. “Rather [he] argues that the condition of the mural is [the state’s] fault because it did not allow him to renovate or repair the mural. Therefore, the Court is not inclined to find irreparable harm if the mural as it is now is altered or destroyed because [Guzman] would like to alter it anyway.”

The judge also wrote she was unable to issue a preliminary injunction halting construction on the Halpin Building because Guzman filed the lawsuit after construction began and does not appear able to pay a bond of $390,000 to $780,000 that would be needed to compensate the state for any delays if he didn’t win the case.

“He stated he obtained counsel through community donations and any additional funds for bond would need to be raised through community efforts,” the judge wrote. “He asks that the Court waive the security requirement because he lacks money and his need for the preliminary injunction is great. Because [Guzman] has not given any indication he can pay a bond of $780,000, the Court could not enter a preliminary injunction in his favor even if one was appropriate.”

Guzman’s attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Without an injunction preventing it from doing so, the Department of Cultural Affairs — which begun construction on the building in February — could demolish the mural at any time.

Spokesman Daniel Zillman wrote in an email the department agrees with the court the mural has reached the end of its natural life.

“Although renovation of the east wall of the Halpin building was delayed by consideration of the injunction, significant progress was made throughout the rest of the building,” Zillman wrote.

“Renovation of the wall on which the mural is painted will entail the removal of window insets and covering the wall with construction netting in order to protect workers,” he added. “Eventually, loose stucco will be removed and the wall will be lathed and re-stuccoed with multiple coats, effectively covering over the mural.”

Zillman did not specify when the mural would be covered.

Guzman’s lawsuit initially included the city of Santa Fe, but court records show the city — which has no jurisdiction over the Halpin Building — was dismissed as a party Thursday.

(22) comments

Rod Oldehoeft

1980, huh? Save the disco balls!

Sloan Cunningham

Disemboweling the historic Halpin building is an ignorant crime. Eviscerating the building in the name of progress and disrespecting art is heartbreaking. Go look at it, you will cry, too.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Firstly, the "judge's" inane pretzel-logic and incompetence runs rampant through Federal courts: Since the artist want to alter/renovate the work anyway, removing it, will merely alter it - unless hundreds of thousands of dollar can be held, to NOT alter it? More immutable confirmation for what I've taught for years; American "Justice", the best "Justice" money can buy. Any questions?

Secondly, not unlike the wholly malicious actions of "Peaceful protesters" and even some City "leaders", -as others have noted- this is another attack upon the vast and vital contributions of Hispano/Latino-American cultural not only in Santa Fe, also in "America".

Finally, and unjustly, one sad morning the citizens of Santa Fe will awaken to discover a freshly White-washed wall, or painted Black. Of course, the only two colors that matter, in "America".

Irene Edwards

And I left out, the mural is ironically on a building set to become an art museum. Go figure. Natural life... hmmmm.

Irene Edwards

"Spokesman Daniel Zillman wrote in an email the department agrees with the court the mural has reached the end of its natural life."

So, would someone please define "natural life"? What is the "natural life" of a work of art? What if the frescoes of Pompeii or the ones in the Sistine Chapel were to be taken down? The Keldby Church in Denmark? Does the Mona Lisa have a "natural life"? What about sculpture, like what can be found around the State Capitol? Baskets, pottery, beadwork, textiles? What might that natural life be? Who decides what that natural life is of an artwork? The mural and painting is unique, a snapshot of a time past, just like Pompeii, the Last Supper, and the Mona Lisa.

Keep the mural. Find another building for the off-site museum.

Richard Reinders

This isn't a Federal issue it is City, Historic District and State, with each one pointing fingers so they don't have to be the heavy. The City nor the Historic District Board fought for this art at all which shows that this is a dept. set up to cater to the money and IMO we know what Webbers motive was, to eliminate anything cultural or to do with Hispanics. Tourism, and Economic Development should also grow a pair and raise holly heck because eventually there will not be a reason to come to Santa Fe.

Stefanie Beninato

Once again, Richard, you are using this event to attack the city and the HBoard neither of which had any authority to make the state keep the mural. Why don't you CONTACT the people at the State Preservation Office, the governor, the head of the state museum system instead of taking out your attack dolls and putting more pins into them. A concerted effort directed to those with the authority to make a different decision is what was needed. Let us know when you get off your treadmill of moral outrage and contact the state officials responsible for the destruction of the mural.

Richard Reinders

The people I mentioned in my comment, are the ones that are elected and hired to represent the constituency so they should fight to the end for what the public want, If you want to let them off the hook make your own comment and leave mine alone. And by the way I have contact all agencies involved in this matter, and the only one I know with a treadmill is SB.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Once again Richard, your sheer logic and reason powerfully resounds.

Paul Davis

The first time I came to Sante Fe, it was because of the Sante Fe Institute (2nd Artificial Life Conference, 1994).

The second time I came to Sante Fe, it was because I had liked it so much the first time, and I wanted to prove I could ride all the way up to the ski basin.

The third time I came to Sante Fe it was because a friend remembered an old breakfast spot near the plaza and wanted to meet there as we were both criss-crossing the southwest in opposite directions.

The fourth time I came to Sante Fe it was because my parents where car-touring in CA/AZ/NM/UT, and they wanted to see the plaza and Bandelier.

The fourth time I came to Sante Fe, it was because of Ten Thousand Waves.

I don't think you have to worry about reasons to come to Santa Fe, unless you have a rather narrow definition of what an acceptable reason ought to be.

LeRoy Sanchez

Our city is spelled “Santa Fe”.

Barry Rabkin

Yes, he misspelled 'Santa' but his logic is absolutely correct. People will continue to come to Santa Fe for all the reasons they came before the pandemic: our environment, walking trails and other outdoor activities, music events, festivals, hundreds of art galleries and studios, and great food.

Paul Davis

I noticed this after posting it - not sure why I did that. There's no edit or delete option for comments, so I had to let it stand.

Not only did I mispell the city, but I came to Santa Fe a fourth time twice!

Angel Ortiz

Another part of the history and culture of Santa Fe is gone. Unacceptable.

Barry Rabkin

Obviously quite 'acceptable.' More importantly, legally acceptable.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Quite acceptable indeed, Mr. Rabkin - to tourists, transplants and their ilk. Yet, to locals, native New Mexicans and many others? Extremely unacceptable.

Paul Davis

"Transplants and their ilk" ... oops, your xenophobia is showing again, Prince.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Merriam-Webster - Ilk: Sort, Kind

Xenophobia? Oops, your weak generalizations are showing again, Paul.

Angel Ortiz

Gracias! [thumbup]

Barry Rabkin

Extremely unacceptable??? Come up with the necessary money that the judge requires.

Barry Rabkin

Fortunately, because Santa Fe is part of the US and the US is governed by our US Constitution and its associated canon of laws, it is only the judge’s ruling that matters.

Paul Davis

I know what the word "ilk" means. I also know what "transplants and their ilk" means too, (especially when contrasted with "locals, native New Mexicans and many others").

Maybe a different definition would be more appropriate here:

"Definition of xenophobia : fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign" -- Merrian Webster dictionary

"Xenophobia (from Ancient Greek: ξένος, romanized: xénos, meaning "stranger" or "foreigner", and phóbos, meaning "fear") is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange." -- wikipedia

"weak generalizations" .... this is funny.

You think it's perfectly OK to label "transplants and their ilk" as "the other" that seeks to destroy that "locals, native New Mexicans and many others" would otherwise preserve. At least it's one step up from "I just hate all transplants", but its a small step up. In reality, you don't know how each individual transplant may feel about such matters. Nevertheless, you are comfortable with treating them all as some indivisable mass of people, rather than making any actual argument for why something should be preserved other than "it's here, and some people that I like like it".

Welcome to the discussion.

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