COVINGTON, Ky. – A combination of unfortunate timing and contract confusion created a flurry of controversy Monday around the painting over of a mural on the side of the Cork 'N Bottle store, located on Covington's west side.
Owners of the local liquor and party supply store painted over a giant black and white mural on the building facing Cincinnati that was installed in August by international street artist group the London Police. The art group, based in the Netherlands, was invited to Northern Kentucky to paint 10 paintings, one of which was commissioned by the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport board for one of their terminals.
"I like Cork 'N Bottle; I genuinely do," said Nate Thamann. "I'm kind of frustrated by the fact that the art was painted over."
Thamann, a Northern Kentucky native who recently moved to Louisville, Ky., questioned the action of the store's owners on Facebook Tuesday morning, responding to a post where the Cork 'N Bottle explained their action.
"The London Police mural was removed from our building at 501 Crescent Ave. yesterday (Monday). The reasons for this are that the contract to have it painted was unauthorized, and the image was an infringement on the Maker’s Mark trademarked bottle image. Please look for new art coming this spring as a new mural is being properly contracted," wrote Cork 'N Bottle on Facebook.
Calls to Cork 'N Bottle about the contract and mural were not immediately returned. Commenting from their official Facebook page to possible copyright infringement violations made by artist London Police, Maker's Mark said it was not even made aware of the mural until news broke on the Internet.
The owners of BLDG Refuge LLC, a design firm located on Pike Street in Covington, say they helped to bring The London Police to the area and brokered a deal with Cork 'N Bottle to have the group complete the mural displaying oblong shaped characters pouring a bottle reminiscent of Maker's Mark that would remain on the building for one year.
"There was a signed contract, " said BLDG co-owner Jay Becker. "It's terribly, terribly bad timing. We just like to bring art to the community. We don't know why they did it; we just thought it was a terrible decision."
The contract to keep the mural for a year on Cork N' Bottle was signed by the store's operation manager Christopher Otto at the time, according to Becker.
Becker said his group was given no notice of the liquor store's decision. What made the store's decision more painful was it happened one day after Mike Amann, business partner with Becker and Chris Ritter at BLDG, passed away after a battle with cancer.
Becker described Amann as a man with a particular enthusiasm to bring the arts to Covington, who coordinated bringing The London Police to the area. Amann opened the BLDG gallery on Pike Street 10 years ago.
Amann's wife, Lesley Smith Amann posted a message about her husband and the removal of the mural on Facebook.
"There are no words. Everyday I drove past that mural with such pride. Mike and The BLDG have definitely impacted Covington in a postive way and this mural was a constant reminder of that. Imagine my disappointment as I drove past Cork 'N Bottle today, on my way to make the arrangement to celebrate Mike's life, to see a piece of his legacy had been destroyed. I am sad today for many reasons but never expected that this would be one of them," she said.
In a statement released by Tim Hues Tuesday afternoon, he apologized for the timing of the removal of the mural so close to Amann's death, while still asserting fear over copyright violations involving Maker's Mark.
"We understand and sincerely regret the hurt that the removal of the art mural has caused our community. We acted out of a concern of a Maker’s Mark copyright violation – which we feared might affect our relationship with a key supplier. We certainly had no intention of offending The London Police - Official, BLDG or the community who had come to appreciate and enjoy the mural," Tim Hues stated. "In furtherance of our sincere apologies, Cork 'N Bottle has made a donation in the name and memory of Michael T. Amann to The American Cancer Society. We invite others to join us."
The amount donated was $1,000 according to BLDG owners. Ritter said he was sure the timing of the removal of the mural and Amann's death was a horrible coincidence. A message also appeared on the BLDG Facebook page.
"We fully accept this apology along with Tim's eagerness to correct the situation. We will be working with Tim and Cork N Bottle on replacing the mural in a timely fashion," the post reads.
Bob Gibson with The London Police responded to news of the removal of mural with understanding and sadness.
"As I understand the situation the Cork and Bottle (sic) is under new ownership and it seems the new owners were not happy with the piece. That's ok. That's the nature of what we do. Each piece has a limited life span but for sure it's a big disappointment. The timing is also very strange. Mike Amann, the founder of BLDG and pioneer of art in Covington passed away on Sunday evening after a courageous battle with cancer. He initiated the mural project and he we will sorely missed by everyone in the community," Gibson stated on behalf of The London Police through Facebook.