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MOCA's decision to whitewash Blu's controversial mural: Censorship or sensitivity?

BluWas MOCA's decision to whitewash the commissioned mural from graffiti artist Blu a matter of censorship or sensitivity? The provocative antiwar mural showed coffins draped with dollar bills instead of flags -- in an area of downtown that neighbors a Veterans Affairs hospital and a war memorial to Japanese American soldiers. In an article in Wednesday's Times, writer Deborah Vankin takes the temperature among street artists. Among the reactions:

In one corner, there's Shepard Fairey, best known for his Barack Obama "Hope" painting, supporting MOCA's decision. He told The Times: "I'm not a fan of censorship but that is why I, and many of the other artists of the show, chose to engage in street art for its democracy and lack of bureaucracy. … However, a museum is a different context with different concerns."

In the other, there's street muralist Alex Poli Jr. (a.k.a. "Man One"). "Once [MOCA] put it up, they should defend the art they're commissioning," he told Vankin. "They know what Blu's work is like -- he critiques things and some of his subject matter is poignant and not pretty. This is Blu, that's what he's known for."

Of course, MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch is now working the damage-control circuit. In a separate story about the issue, the former New York gallery owner told The Times, "Look at my gallery website -- I have supported protest art more than just about any other mainstream gallery in the country. [...] But as a steward of a public institution, I have to balance a different set of priorities -- standing up for artists and also considering the sensitivities of the community."

If the community's sensitivities were an issue to Deitch, why did he allow MOCA to commission the mural in the first place? It turns out the museum didn't know exactly what it had commissioned; Blu was simply given the green light without any vetting process. A rookie mistake, certainly, but one with huge cultural implications.

In future endeavors, Deitch would be wise to learn what he's commissioning, especially when the artist is known for controversial art. Although we suspect Deitch knows that now.

-- Alexandra Le Tellier


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Photo: Graffiti artist Blu paints an antiwar mural on the wall of MOCA's Geffen Contemporary downtown. The museum commissioned the work but then had it whitewashed. Credit: Justin T. Ho / For The Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (7)

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Daniel Pelt

I don't believe for a second MOCA and it's directors were not aware of the content "Blu" proposed for his mural adorning the Geffin.
Knowing Deitch's exhibition history at his extremely popular New York commercial venture, he understands better than most that controversy and spectacle result in great press.
Following the Smithsonian's decision to scrap David Wojhizface's video, this is the opportune time to incite the dialogue around censorship and the public domain in Los Angeles.
It's clear Mr. Deitch understands the intrinsic value of "street art" is, well, that it is on the street, active without permission; a reclaiming of the public domain from the corporate/institutional establishment's right to advertise via right to buy. So when "street art" is commissioned by such an institution-- and hence, removed from the intrinsic political value within the reclamation of public space-- it becomes another painting on the wall, bought and paid for by all the tropes associated with commercial art; the very thing "street art" proclaims to invert. When MOCA commissions such a work, a convenient way to seemingly rekindle the fire of political activism is to censure the work itself.


I think this is called a 'planned controversy'. He knew damned well what he was commissioning and equally knew all the ramifications of painting the mural over. It is censorship of the worst kind, hiding behind some sanctimonious political pandering.

He needs to either handle ART or get into politics. He cannot do both. They are mutually exclusive.


It's both and perfectly acceptable.

John Gotti

Not ONE person, or LIBERAL has mentioned that 400 feet away is the "Go For Broke" Memorial. This is the the Japanese American U.S. Army unit, that was the most decorated Fighting Unit, of WW11. And not once have you Clowns mentioned the DEAD and WOUNDED, this memorial represents.


"Not ONE person, or LIBERAL has mentioned that 400 feet away is the "Go For Broke" Memorial. "

You mean the memorial that is mentioned in the article? Did you even read it? I really hate when people play this game. "no one said anything about X" when X has been mentioned quite obviously.

Karen Eliot

Jeffrey Deitch is a hack who became famous in the 1980s an uber-yuppie art consultant and made his fortune through conflicting interests (art critic and dealer). As an art critic in NYC during the period of his rise I can't recall seeing much in the way of protest art at his gallery in Soho. He was a rotten choice to lead MOCA. This decision to censor Blu's work shows his true colors as a stinking hypocrite.


If I paid 15k for something, I would do whatever I damn well please with it.
An anti war mural across from the war memorial for Japanese American soldiers?
Blu could have thought that one out a little better. Maybe not the best way to stay friends with your neighbors. Deitch, MOCA, censorship? Who cares. It was the decent thing to do.



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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