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Anonymous street artist puts up mural condemning MOCA director [Updated]

December 17, 2010 |  6:38 am

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An anonymous L.A. street artist spoke out Thursday about MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch's decision to paint over another artist's mural that he had commissioned -- making a statement in the form of a provocative piece of guerrilla poster art glued to the exterior wall of the restaurant Zip Fusion Sushi on Traction Avenue and Third Street in Little Tokyo.

The wheat-pasted mural depicts the face of Deitch on the body of an Iranian ayatollah holding an extension pole with a paint roller at the end -- and it's set against Italian street artist Blu's now-controversial anti-war imagery. 

Blu's enormous mural was painted on the north side of the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo and pictured rows of coffins cloaked in dollar bills. The mural was commissioned by the museum in advance of its upcoming "Art in the Streets" show next April. But Deitch said Monday that the mural was insensitive to the neighborhood, as it was adjacent to both a Veterans Affairs hospital and a war memorial to Japanese-American soldiers. Deitch also said he had intended to meet with the artist before the mural went up, but was unable to due to travel complications on Blu's end and the fact that Deitch had to leave town to attend a Miami art fair.

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Photos of the new mural were posted on Facebook Thursday afternoon by iGreen, an art collective whose members remain anonymous. iGreen describes itself on its Facebook page as "a group of artists not affiliated with any political party, organization or group, presents (sic) a series of art events in solidarity with the Iranian people's struggle for freedom and justice."

The anonymous artist asked a friend, John Carr --  a political poster artist himself and part of the street art collective Yo! Peace -- to relay a statement about the new mural to Culture Monster:

"A giant antiwar mural right in the heart of L.A.’s political district was erased by the museum staff just after it was finished. MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch claimed it was potentially offensive to the community. Can there be a more perfect example of censorship? Does it not border on Orwellianism to call it something else?"

Carr said that the new mural went up Thursday afternoon -- independently of Blu, who had no knowledge of it -- and that one reason the location was chosen was because it's a few blocks from the Geffen Contemporary.

That particular wall also has a long history of showcasing local political poster art. "It’s kind of the neighborhood editorial space," Carr said. "There are a couple of property owners in the neighborhood that allow regular wheat pasting on their walls -- they don't remove anything -- and so it's a common place for people to come and make political commentaries and artists' statements of every kind."

Carr also says there are "layers upon layers -- hundreds, maybe thousands -- of pieces of paper that have been put up there for the last five years. Possibly much longer."  Local street artists Cryptik, Abcnt, Mark of the Beast and Political Gridlock have posted artwork there.

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Carr discussed some of the work's references: "It's typical that there's censorship of free speech in countries under dictatorial control, like Iran; also, the pink color in the undergarment is a reference to the pink suits that Jeffrey Deitch has been seen to wear.”

Zip Fusion manager Ugi Luv says that the 8-year-old restaurant supports local artists. "The restaurant’s wall is for the local artists to post their work. So we let them do their thing," Luv said. 

Opinions have been heated and sharply divided over the MOCA/Blu incident. There have been outcries alleging censorship; others have been surprised that Deitch allowed Blu to proceed without advance planning. Yet others have applauded Deitch for his attention to the often-marginalized art genre, saying that not getting a pre-approved plan for the mural was just a logistical bump in the road. 

One street artist, Alex Poli Jr., a.k.a. Man One -- who's also the owner of Crewest gallery downtown -- said he felt the artists participating in MOCA's upcoming show have been not-so-curiously silent.  "They don't want to jeopardize the opportunity to be in the exhibit," he said.  

But the unnamed Zip Fusion muralist told Carr his/her own reasons for remaining anonymous. "[The artist] told me the nature of street art is generally anonymous," Carr said. "And so this person has chosen to operate in that way."

[For the Record, 8:20 a.m. Monday: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Japanese-American soldiers as Japanese soldiers.]

--Deborah Vankin
Twitter.com/@debvankin

Photos: Poster art in response to MOCA's whitewashing of Italian artist Blu's mural. Credit: iGreen.

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