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Standing in his spacious art studio, Christopher Lane bubbles over with remembrances. Recounting one experience, he suddenly breaks off to describe another. As a young artist in Paris, Lane met Alberto Giacometti, the renowned sculptor and painter. He studied briefly with mime Marcel Marceau. And he’s exhibited his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as museums in San Francisco, Paris and Japan. But it’s the work he did at San Francisco’s Juvenile Hall that he says he’s particularly proud of. During a 22-year period he painted numerous murals on the walls and courtyards of the Youth Guidance Center and supervised artwork of those detained at the facility. Most of the murals have been destroyed, and Lane is now in a legal battle with the city to preserve the two remaining works. “These are the most important murals I’ve ever done,” said Lane, who lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. The youth there “were my apprentices who got the opportunity to create, to express their dreams.” The city notified Lane in June that the center was going to be torn down. That’s when he learned that most of his murals had been destroyed. He now wants the city to remove the remaining works and redisplay them at the new facility. This is “a better solution than a straight damages claim” for the murals that were destroyed, said Lane’s attorney, Brooke Oliver. “For future detainees to see that the city preserved the work would be a good thing all around.” Deputy City Attorney Marc Slavin says the time period the law allows for Lane to remove the existing murals has already passed. The question now is whether the city faces liability for the destruction of Lane’s other works. “We are undertaking an investigation as to the details,” Slavin says. “It’s going to really depend on a lot of very specific circumstances,” such as when the murals were painted and whether they were removable at the time they were alleged to have been destroyed. Oliver says that under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act artists have the right to prevent the destruction of a mural of recognized stature. Three art experts are prepared to testify to the value of Lane’s work, Oliver says. They include Peter Selz, past curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art; Henry Hopkins, former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Robert Hanamura, who has been a curator of the S.F. Art Commission Gallery. Oliver has won previous battles to preserve muralists’ works. A few years ago she got an injunction ordering the removal of whitewash covering a mural at 17th and Harrison Streets in San Francisco. That case settled for $200,000. Lane hopes his work will be preserved, both for himself and the youth who enter juvenile hall in the future. “Placing the works in a new facility is a statement that at-risk youth, given an opportunity to work with an artist, can create great works of art,” he says. Meanwhile, Lane is working on a series of texts based on brush calligraphy and preparing to do a pantomime show in homage to his twin brother, Rusdi, a professional mime who died four years ago. Displaying his own miming skills, Lane did a pantomime of Salvador Dali, moving his eyes and facial muscles — and suddenly it seemed as if Dali was in the room. “The work I do now is very different,” Lane says. But the paintings at Juvenile Hall “are connected with my art. What I did there is part of my life and part of my being.”

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