Altering art: The unfortunate fable of ‘holy cheeseburger’

Original sculpture by Miguel Rodriguez (left) and its current condition (right).

Back in 2012, Las Vegas artist Miguel Rodriguez had a solo exhibit at Trifecta Gallery emphasizing his perception of cultural tropes. Among the works in the show was a 4-foot, three-dimensional cheeseburger centered in a metallic gold starburst designed to suggest divinity—a celebration of and cultural commentary on an All-American motif. Known colloquially as “holy cheeseburger,” its official title “I’d Gladly Pay You Tuesday …” referenced Wimpy from Popeye and the idea of owning something not yet paid for, another American tradition.

A year later the sculpture landed in the hands of Arts Factory owner Wes Myles, who bought it for his Bar+Bistro next to Trifecta. Hanging in the restaurant, it became a visual staple. But last month the artist learned of the cheeseburger’s surprising makeover. Its religious starburst had been painted over with a swirled rendition of the British flag to fit in with the space’s new tenant, Crown & Anchor’s Downtown Crown.

“I’d Gladly Pay You Tuesday …” had lost its meaning, but nothing could be done. Unless a contract says otherwise, artists who sell their works generally no longer have a voice in what happens to them. The Visual Artists Rights Act enacted by congress in 1990 to protect against mutilation or destruction of artwork (among other things), would be a costly endeavor. There is also the prevailing notion that art collectors must be responsible stewards of the work they own, ensuring its preservation and protection. Keeping tabs on one's work is no easy task and it gets fuzzy when artists create work directly on top of someone else's artwork or unabashedly appropriate other artists' work.

Myles says he still owns the piece and plans to keep it as-is at the Downtown Crown, whose owners allegedly had no idea it was art, changing it to be a decorative piece accentuating the British theme. Rodriguez, disappointed with the swirls (not rhythmic with the shooting linear stripes of the starburst) says he would have been glad to change it for them had he been asked.

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