Yard artist defends his right to self-expression

 

It’s easy to dismiss Andrew Moore as some kind of conspiracy crank. Except for one thing: History has proven that authorities and agencies are not above employing subterfuge when they can’t dispense with citizens straightforwardly by legitimate means.

Moore, a homeowner in South Minneapolis, has a variety of lawn decorations that stood out pretty well, to say the least, from his neighbors’ Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas decorations. They’ve made the property stand out for quite some time in fact, most of the almost decades that he has been there.

Constructed from what basically is junk, the collection is an assemblage of installation art, the kind you see at Walker Art Center exhibits and other prestige venues. Moore’s work, though, is not your, so to speak, run of the mill peculiar. In addition to strongly resembling the result of an intense acid-trip, his pieces all make social comments in protest against the political and social oppression of Black Americans by this country’s government in general and its law enforcement entities in particular — along with exploitation by corporate greed.

There seems to lay the rub. The harmless, playful digs he endures from passersby who call him Fred Sanford and ask, “Hey, where’s Lamont?” don’t bother him. He has a sense of humor and can take that with a grain of salt.

Exercising freedom of expression, though, he believes, runs contrary to the neighborhood’s trend toward gentrification. He feels it’s a matter of his convictions that aren’t quite shared by everyone around him.

“The statement’s in the yard,” he insists. “So bold about the government.” The sort of statements you’d expect from a member of the famed Black Panther Party — which he is. “They’re so petrified by people being themselves. And me, I’m always going to be myself.”

Complaints are made to the City. Moore says that, in fact, if you dial 311, there is along with the regular features an option to grouse about Andrew Moore. “You press the button and it rings straight through to City Hall.”

Legally, they may as well be sending letters to Santa Claus. “The inspector came out and said I couldn’t have permanent fixtures in the yard. So, I make sure and rotate [the installations].”

The fact is, birdbaths are permanent fixtures. Rather than stand on the point, however, Moore contented himself with playing a shell game of moving pieces around. That, he asserts, kept inspectors a bay just long enough for them to figure out an alternative way of getting at him and trying to get him out.

“They came in and started nitpicking. This is wrong with that doorjamb. The other light socket isn’t up to code. Little piddling stuff. They’ve been after me the whole last 17 years.”

On the basis of technicalities, inspectors managed to get his renter’s license yanked. Consequently, his tenants had to move or he could be forced to leave. He gets along, he says, “by the grace of God. I had renters upstairs at one time and that’s what the City’s on me about. They took my license.”

That was in August or so. To sustain himself and his three kids — ages 17, 13 and 12 — he gets food stamps, hits the food shelves, and has medical coverage through Hennepin County. Coasting on no cash income, he is looking for a lawyer to fight the City of Minneapolis and have his renter’s license and livelihood restored. Meanwhile, he has spoken to the bank in order to not become one more casualty in the housing market’s ongoing spate of foreclosures.

“They told me to write up a letter, make them an offer. Of a plan as to how soon I think I’ll be able to make payments again.”

In the meanwhile, Andrew Moore maintains and keeps creating his lawn installation to protest social and political conditions. What, by the way, does he think of the job the president’s doing with the economy?

“I don’t think Obama’s showing the American people that he’s a real leader, truthfully. He’s a smart man, and he knew about the resistance when he went [into office] between the Republicans and the Democrats. So, it’s not anything new to him. My thing with Obama is I just don’t think he’s being the man he should’ve been, saying, ‘Look, this is the way I say it is going to be and this is the way it’s going to be.’

“I know there’s barriers he has to go through, but he could be doing a better job. I guess he’s just going to do as good a job as they let him. We know that he’s the fall guy for all this economic oppression we’re going through. That was perpetuated by the Bush administration. The economic downfall.”

For the time, Moore is holding on, fending off what he sees as a concerted, barely covert effort by malcontents with the ear of politicians and officials to stifle his constitutionally guaranteed right to express himself as an artist and as an American.

 

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.