Five Controversial Murals

We all know that some of the best art is controversial, but these five murals might be crossing the line. Or are they? Read up on these works of art and decide for yourself whether they warrented alteration or removal.

Denver International Airport (DIA)

Those of us biding our layover time at DIA will miss the most controversial murals to ever grace the walls of a baggage claim. Some of the murals have now been painted over, but they did include a city on fire, dead children and women in coffins, a military-type guy stabbing a dove and other disturbing stuff. Some conspiracy theorists say the murals were commissioned by the Masonic society to show what will happen to the population and the environment when the world allegedly ends in 2012.

photo by Flickr user Mash Down Babylon

One man has written more than 20 books explaining how the world is controlled by reptile-like aliens, including George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II and… Kris Kristofferson? Yep. According to him, the murals how the reptilians when they finally take over the world. Furthermore, the tunnels underneath the airport house human slaves, even children, who are controlled by the reptilians. According to the artist, Leo Tanguma, it's really just a mural that "depict man-made environmental destruction and genocide along with humanity coming together to heal nature and live in peace."

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

Rumors about the dark side of Disney are certainly not lacking, so it's not surprising to find one that says the company purposely had an artist paint a Nazi into a mural at one of their swankiest hotels.

photo from

In the book Sabotage in the American Workplace, an anonymous man claims that his company was hired to paint a scene at the Grand Floridian that depicted something similar to the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The artist wanted to make a statement that while the rich folks were enjoying their parties and cocktails, sinister things were happening in the rest of the world. The thing is, the figure the man claims is a Nazi doesn't have any really distinguishing Nazi characteristics, so all we can really do is take him at his word. You can decide for yourself.

San Francisco's Mission District

Photo from

This mural in San Fran has caused a huge rift among many citizens in the Mission district. The mural shows Palestinians breaking through the Israeli wall, with a large crack in the wall shaped like the country of Israel. The organization that received a grant to paint the mural, HOMEY (Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth) said the mural was intended to show the two sides uniting. In order to make the mural more neutral, the agreed to reshape the crack in the wall so it doesn't represent Israel, add an olive tree to symbolize peace and remove a headscarf from a woman's face.

Twelve Labors of Hercules

When muralist Michael Spafford created "Twelve Labors of Hercules" for Washington's House of Representatives chambers in 1981, he didn't know he would cause such a divide. The murals were up for barely a year before they were covered with plywood after complains that the paintings were offensive.

Photo from The murals show some of the feats Hercules accomplished, including one where he kills the Amazon queen Hippolyta. One Representative felt the depiction was a glorification of rape. The murals are now on display at Centralia College in Centralia, Washington, much to the chagrin of Michael Spafford, who says the mural would only look right in the space he created it for.

Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future/Man Controller of the Universe

Photo from

It seems like a crime to destroy a mural painted by one of Mexico's most famous artists, Diego Rivera, but Nelson A. Rockefeller didn't really have a problem with it. He commissioned Rivera to paint a mural on the RCA center in 1933 and requested that it be about "new frontiers" and that it would be an image that would make people stop and think. Rivera created Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future, a scene that juxtaposed workers and capitalism and industry. Some of the people portrayed included Charlie Chaplin, Edsel Ford, Vladimir Lenin and Jean Harlow. The Rockefellers hated the representation of Lenin. Rivera refused to change it (although he did offer to balance it by adding Abraham Lincoln to represent an American leader) so the mural was covered up entirely until it Rockefeller had it chiseled away. In response, Rivera painted a pretty exact replica of Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future in Mexico City, but titled this one Man Controller of the Universe. I would say that Rivera got the last laugh.

The Rivera mural incident inspired E.B.White to publish the following poem:

I Paint What I See
-- by E.B. White

"'What do you paint, when you paint on a wall?'
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
'Do you paint just anything there at all?
'Will there be any doves, or a tree in fall?
'Or a hunting scene, like an English hall?'

'I paint what I see,' said Rivera.

'What are the colors you use when you paint?'
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
'Do you use any red in the beard of a saint?
'If you do, is it terribly red, or faint?
'Do you use any blue? Is it Prussian?'

'I paint what I paint,' said Rivera.

'Whose is that head that I see on the wall?'
Said John D.'s grandson Nelson.
'Is it anyone's head whom we know, at all?
'A Rensselaer, or a Saltonstall?
'Is it Franklin D.? Is it Mordaunt Hall?
Or is it the head of a Russian?

'I paint what I think,' said Rivera.

'I paint what I paint, I paint what I see,
'I paint what I think,' said Rivera,
'And the thing that is dearest in life to me
'In a bourgeois hall is Integrity;
'However . . .
'I'll take out a couple of people drinkin'
'And put in a picture of Abraham Lincoln;
'I could even give you McCormick's reaper
'And still not make my art much cheaper.
'But the head of Lenin has got to stay
'Or my friends will give the bird today,
'The bird, the bird, forever.'

'It's not good taste in a man like me,'
Said John D.'s grandson Neslon,
'To question an artist's integrity
'Or mention a practical thing like a fee,
'But I know what I like to a large degree,
'Though art I hate to hamper;
'For twenty-one thousand conservative bucks
'You painted a radical. I say shucks,
'I never could rent the offices-----
'The capitalistic offices.
'For this, as you know, is a public hall
'And people want doves, or a tree in hall
'And though your art I dislike to hamper,
'I owe a little to God and Gramper,
'And after all,
'It's my wall . . .'

'We'll see if it is,' said Rivera.
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right on about DIA.....lots of strange stuff is happening there. do a google search on DIA or on "subterranean structures", followed by your introduction to the "subterrene" and you will get the begeezus scared out of you. the Mormons are in on it as well! prepare for battle, soldier.
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In the Disney one, I never new NAZIS wore modern era police uniforms. I always thought they wore the brown ones they wear,....constantly, in damn near every picture I've ever seen.
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I second Doug. Perhaps it'd help if I were more familiar with Hercules' deeds? Nonetheless, the one second from the left and the one second from the right both look to me rather...phallacious, as it were. ;)
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In terms of Disney Nazism, Walt Disney was in fact a strong supporter of the Nazi party and quite an anti-Semite.

The guy in the mural is somewhat irrelevant...
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Very interesting, the first one doesn't seem right for an airport - so I can understand why they wouldn't a picture of dead children on the wall as tourists enter the city.
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That DIA one is very clearly pushing an overwrought ecological message. C'mon... a forest burning (not a city), dead animals, dead Indians? "O NOES! They are killing animals and putting them in museums!" I thought it was going to be controversial because of how ridiculous it is, not because people thought it had hidden messages. And yeah, poor choice for a place where thousands of tourists arrive each day. As if airports weren't stressful enough without having to see depictions of calamity.
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I attended Indiana University of Bloomington where there was a controversial mural in Woodburn Hall:
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The O'Charley's restaurant in Winston-Salem, NC, next to Hanes Mall, has a HORRIBLE painted mural. I will try to take a picture of it the next time I am there. It is supposed to represent the city of Winston-Salem but it doesn't really say anything about the city at all. There is a section in the upper left hand corner that is supposed to be two children having fun on a fair ride, but one of them is making the SCARIEST face. The middle of the mural is a giant twenty foot head of an unattractive girl.
I think that the man in the Disney painting is scary, but most certainly not a Nazi. He looks as if he has a gun, though.
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