April 23, 2019

Pico-Robertson Monopoly Mural Sparks Debate

“Mr. Monopoly,” the animated character from the classic board game, holding bags of money, dancing atop a pile of greenbacks, and wearing Star of David pants.

A new mural on the side of the building housing kosher restaurant Osher Bar & Grill in Pico-Robertson is generating conversation for its depiction of “Mr. Monopoly,” the animated character from the classic board game, holding bags of money, dancing atop a pile of greenbacks, and wearing Star of David pants.

The mural was painted on Monday. By Tuesday morning, the stars of David had been covered up with blue paint, an effort by the popular street artist—who goes by the name of Alec Monopoly—to curb the community’s negative reactions.

Osher co-owner Joe Kamelgard told the Journal that he will be painting over the mural as soon as possible. “I don’t believe anyone actually knew what he was going to actually draw ahead of time,” Kamelgard said. “It was a gesture of friendship but it was an unfortunate choice of imagery for the location.”

The mural happened while Kamelgard was offsite, he told the Journal. A staff member and friend of Alec Monopoly’s had brought him to the restaurant. When the popular street artist spied the open wall, he offered an impromptu mural, at no charge.

“Once he became aware it was offensive he took action immediately, to rectify [it] as to not hurt any one,” said Jonathan Fronen, a friend of the artist who spoke up for him in various Facebook threads.

The money bags are part of the artist’s signature Mr. Monopoly character, and appear in most of Alec’s murals. The stars of David, which prompted the strongest reaction from the community, were intended as a greeting to Jews in celebration of Purim. (“Happy Purim to my Jewish family,” read the caption on the Instagram photo of the artist mid-creation.)

“It is very typical for graffiti artists, and other types of artists, to have a unique motif they repeat,” said Anne Marie Hromadka, local curator and founder of AMH Art Advisory. “The problem was the incorporation of the stars of David and the location of the mural. Placing his Monopoly man in the center of Pico-Robertson takes on a different meaning and can read anti-Semitic.”

“We advised them that putting up the Monopoly guy holding money bags on the wall of a kosher restaurant in a very Jewish neighborhood might be in poor taste,” said Rabbi Daniel Chorny, who was walking by with Rabbi Jason Rosner, when they saw the artist creating the mural. “They put it up anyway. At the time I couldn’t tell he was putting stars of David all over the pants. It’s even worse than I anticipated.”

The mural was painted on Monday. By Tuesday morning, the stars of David had been covered up with blue paint, an effort by the popular street artist—who goes by the name of Alec Monopoly—to curb the community’s negative reactions.

On Monday night, one passerby said the image scared her “because of what’s happening with ‘the Benjamins,’” (referring to language used by U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to criticize the influence of lobbying groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). However, absent the stars of David, she said, she wouldn’t think the image was anti-Semitic.

Another passerby, local resident Isaac Begin, disagreed. “My parents were survivors. It brings back memories of terrible things that they experienced before the war,” he said. “And as the old saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Because it’s on the side of a kosher restaurant, to me, the message is very clear.”

Kamelgard spoke with the artist on Tuesday morning. “He feels terrible because the last thing he wanted to do was to offend anyone,” Kamelgard said. “This was a gift. He wants to do something uplifting for the community, which is what he thought he was doing before it generated such difficult emotions in people.”

Osher Bar & Grill, currently closed for renovation and rebranding, will re-open in April, coinciding with the planned return of Alec Monopoly to Los Angeles.

“[Alec] told me he wants to do something else with input from the community,” Kamelgard said, which he hopes “will enhance the area and maybe become a place for people to take pictures, as his other work is around the country and around the world.”

The painting has being painted over March 19. Photo by Esther Kustanowitz

Update: The painting has been painted over.