SAN DIEGO — It's going to take a miracle to remove the Surfing Madonna, according to an art agency hired to run tests on an illegal public mosaic that has been sparking debate about what should be considered graffiti.
Assistant conservator Andrew Smith of Los Angeles-based Sculpture Conservation Studio said Wednesday that his agency will recommend officials in the beach city of Encinitas not only keep the artwork – but adopt a plan to protect it.
The artwork featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe riding a surfboard was put up under a train bridge shortly before Easter by artists disguised as construction workers, according to witnesses.
Officials contend the piece is graffiti under the law and must be removed. Still, City Council members acknowledge it is stunning, so they hired the art agency to find a way to take it down without destroying it. They hope the piece can be displayed at a local business where the public can continue to view it.
Local businesses have been raising funds to cover the city's expenses if the mosaic is moved, and several people have offered to buy the artwork.
But Smith said after examining the wall Tuesday that it would be pretty much impossible to remove the image because it is attached with a combination of epoxy glue and a metal bolting system.
"It's on there very securely, and short of a miracle, it's not coming down," he said.
Smith said he expects to hand over a report with his agency's recommendations to the city by Wednesday evening.
Encinitas Mayor James Bond said Wednesday that the City Council would need to review the official report before making a decision on the Surfing Madonna's fate.
The colorful mosaic has drawn scores of visitors who have come to see it in the coastal city 25 miles north of San Diego.
Bond has said the artwork is beautiful but leaving it in place would set a dangerous precedent and could encourage more illegal art in the city, which has a large artist population. He said the mosaic's religious connotations also have drawn complaints.
Some say the artwork blurs the line between church and state; others consider it sacrilegious to have Mexico's patron saint pictured surfing.