ART: St. Paul mural – lewd or cuddly?

The mural project has brought some highly regarded muralists to Rochester to put up murals on walls around the city. Some of the murals reflect social commentary and some subjects that may be hard to stomach. Seen driving by or walking by, these subjects raise questions and may cause one to question what the artist had in mind.

One such mural is on the south wall of a building on St. Paul Street overlooking the Worldwide News parking lot and Pleasant Street. In that location, it will not be seen by a lot of people, since St. Paul is one way south at that point and a southbound driver would need to look over his/her shoulder to see it. It will be seen by customers of Worldwide News as they transit the parking lot.

It will also be seen morning, noon, and night by a small group of people making their homes in downtown Rochester in The Warner Lofts at 80 St. Paul Street on the north side of the building.

To put it in simple terms, the mural is lewd. It depicts two bear-like creatures with rat-like faces in what might be described as a sexual position that is lurid.

We are just moving into an apartment on the north side of Warner Lofts and chose that side because RGRTA insists that the best place in the world for their new bus terminal abuts the south side of the Warner building. Thanks, all, for making Rochester a welcoming place for residents.

The owner of the building with the painted wall is satisfied with the artwork. He has his right to express himself or permit others to express themselves on his property. He will not ever see the wall unless he walks out of his apartment to take a look or looks over his shoulder as he drives away from his home. We will see it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and so will any guests we have in our apartment.

Those guests will include our grandchildren, ages 9 to 13. We really don’t need well-done lewd art just outside our window.

For context, we are art collectors, and my wife is a fine-art photographer. We are generally not put off by strong art that makes a statement. We have chosen many pieces that others might not display in a house where children are being raised. That is art of our choice. That is not imposed on us by a neighbor.


Wall/Therapy founder and curator Ian J. Wilson – a radiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center – responds: While none of us is the final arbiter of aesthetics, the labeling of the mural on St. Paul as lewd leaves no room for meaningful dialogue. It seems rather disturbing that sleeping bears would be sexualized in the manner being described by some. If one considers the spatial arrangement of the creatures on the wall, it becomes readily apparent that the head of one bear rests on the knees of the other. Had the artist painted the westward facing bear’s head closer to the pelvis of the other, then the assessment of the mural as “lurid” becomes more valid. The artist described the mural as “two bears sleeping,” nothing more. In fact, a cursory survey of ROA’s body of work would reveal murals that are far more graphic than the St. Paul piece. These bears are quite tame by comparison.

Arguably one of the most important living contemporary artists working in the public space, ROA fell in love with this city. His work can be seen from London to Australia and now Rochester. Whether pro or con, the net effect of this mural art project is a heightened consciousness about public art. People are being empowered to express their views. However small, this project, and its resultant debate, can be viewed as steps that move us toward actualizing our full potential as a world-class city.

The art depicted on walls throughout this city do not reflect the ideology, politics, or philosophical inclinations of any of the property owners who have graciously supported this project by granting permission for their property to be painted. In addition, this mural was privately funded by myself and others who are bullish on Rochester and believe in its future.  As the father of a 2-year-old girl, I look forward to sharing the world with her, starting here. As a “kid from Brooklyn” who serves this community on a daily basis in my professional life, I can honestly say, “Trust me. I’m a doctor.”


POLITICS: Republicans dream of the past – the very distant past

The Republican right seems bent on taking us back in time, but exactly where do these intrepid time-travelers intend for us to land? In what era, what century?

They oppose the separation of church and state. They want to accelerate the concentration of America’s wealth in the hands of the few. Through the elimination of the estate tax, they must aim to establish in America a permanent aristocracy of inherited wealth and privilege. They oppose the separation of powers, behaving as if the Supreme Court were an arm of the Republican administration the Court helped to install in 2000. And they want the electoral process in this country to become a sham, determined not by openly debated ideas but by mountains of cash.

They want to return us to a time before John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. They aim to turn back the clock to a time before our Revolution in order to honor our original “founding father,” King George III. I think I know why we use the term ”red states”: Could these be areas of clandestine support for the redcoats?




  1. Clifton wood · · Reply

    I had a great time watching ROA painting his / our mural. It was fascinating to talk to other observers, and get their different views on what the mural was depicting.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, it seems that the varying reactions have more to do with the individuals than with the mural.

    I am very grateful that Wall Therapy came to Rochester, bringing world-class artists to share their work with our community. And I think it’s terrific that so many people are discussing art.

    I look forward to seeing these murals over the years, changing as the building surfaces weather.

  2. Claire HZ · · Reply

    This project has really put Rochester, NY onto the world art scene map. We should be incredibly thankful for and proud of our part in this opportunity.

    Art often says more about the viewer than the artist. I think if this piece makes people think about sex, it is showing what is going on in their minds, not what is happening on the wall.

  3. Lets please talk about the real disgusting issues of St Paul. I lived here on Pleasant St for about 5 years awaiting ‘The Renaissance’. I frequented this gem of a newsstand countless times to buy milk and to read hard to find design magazines from the UK. Inside there is usually at least one or two guys hanging out in the porno mag isle. There are morbidly obese scooter-people spending their remaining life and what little money they have on the NYS lottery. Someone else will be panhandling in the parking lot to buy malt liquor or drugs. Across the from the adjacent church parking lot there is a halfway house where crackheads cross paths with school children. Every weekend when the nightclubs across the street close, you can count on violence and about a dozen police cars to try to maintain order. I replaced 4 pieces of glass from car break-ins before moving to Park/East neighborhood.

  4. I had my first, and only, viewing of “two bears sleeping” while leaving downtown at night earlier this week. As I was on the side street, which has a very long red light, I had some time to look at it. My first response was, “Gross! Rats! What were they thinking? Rats? Downtown?” My second response was of its lewd nature. Are they about to perform a sexual act, or have they just finished? I never would have guessed they were bears nor that they were sleeping. Nothing cute about it. It made the whole corner look even more seedy to me. I couldn’t wait for the light to change. At least it was privately funded.

  5. Heather C. · · Reply

    For me, art is about making you think, about seeing the world through a different lens. After less than five seconds of looking at this beautiful mural by a world-class artist, it is apparent to me that it is two bears sleeping. I respect the fact the there will always be people with varied opinions, that there will always be controversy, but that, to me, is intertwined with art as a medium. Art gives us beauty as well as allows us an outlet to reflect upon our own inner world via our projections upon the outer world while examining someone else’s very personal and heartfelt expression. If someone chooses to think that is sexual, that is fine with me, but do not assume that a child would think so, or any other person on the street for that matter. I am grateful to see the beautification of areas of the city that rightly deserved it, and look forward to more projects like it in the future!

  6. Scott D. · · Reply

    Those are not bears, and lewdness takes many forms. It is possible, for example, to engage in a sexual act whose profile closely resembles that of the rats, and to not be constantly drilling in one spot, as it were. They are rats, and they are engaging in a safer sex act. It’s fine if that’s what you call it. If you call it sleeping bears, you are just blowing smoke and I don’t appreciate it. Also, gray on gray? Wow, thrilling.

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