The Spectacle by Tom Warn and John Reipas

Spectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John Reipas
Spectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John ReipasSpectacle Shoppe Mural by Tom Warn and John Reipas

A fanciful, colorful and controversial mural right out of the circus adorns the Spectacle Shoppe in West St. Paul. Artists Tom Warn and John Reipas were hired by Spectacle Shoppe owner David Ulrich to paint the mural in 1998.

That’s when it got complicated.

The City of West St. Paul stepped in and claimed the mural violated the city’s ordinance against over sized commercial signs.

“[Meetings with city officials] went in circles,” said Reipas. “We’re dealing with the imagination here, and the people in the city council just don’t have much imagination when it comes to art.”

But the city claimed it had little to do with art:

Art shmart, says West St. Paul city attorney Rollie Crawford; Ulrich’s mural is no museum fare–it’s advertising, pure and simple. “We believe businesses have their First Amendment rights,” Crawford allows, “but when you surreptitiously put commercial images in a mural, then you have violated our ordinance. We need an ordinance like this because otherwise people would call every sign art.”

Crawford doesn’t take issue with the mural’s eyewear theme–the monstrous eyeball, for one, and the several characters decked out in specs and sunglasses. “If you want to paint something tasteless,” he says, “you can, as long as it is not obscene.” It’s the lettering, he says, that makes the mural a sign: “Nice Specs,” “The One-eyed Giant,” “Evil Eyes,” and other phrases have been painted in bold colors across the building’s face. If Ulrich were to order the artists to remove the wording, Crawford believes, the city council would likely let the mural stay.

And that’s what eventually what happened. “Censored by local government” tags were painted over some of the offending words, though others were allowed to remain. There’s also a not-so-subtle jab at the city of West St. Paul with a skyline of downtown St. Paul that’s clearly giving a middle finger to a sign welcoming visitors to “West Sin Paul.”

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