Shepard Fairey weighs in on MOCA's mural controversy
When the anarchical spirit of street art meets the buttoned-down world of museums, the results can sometimes be messy and even controversial. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles learned it the hard way this weekend when it decided to remove a mural it had commissioned from the Italian street artist Blu, only to face accusations of censorship.
Someone who has successfully walked the fine line between being a street artist and a museum-world player is Shepard Fairey. The L.A.-based Fairey began his career as a graffiti artist and has since built his own art empire, exhibiting his creations in some of the top museums around the world.
Fairey also happens to be an associate of Jeffrey Deitch, the director of MOCA who decided to remove the Blu mural. In his former role as a dealer, Deitch exhibited Fairey's work at his New York gallery, Deitch Projects.
In April, Fairey will be one of many artists whose work will be part of MOCA's "Art in the Streets," a massive survey of graffiti and street art from the 1970s to the present.
When asked about the MOCA controversy, Fairey said in an e-mail that "this is a complex situation that could have been avoided [altogether] with better communication." He added that "the situation is unfortunate but I understand MOCA’s decision."
Here is Fairey's reaction to the MOCA controversy...
Like many people I was puzzled with the news that the mural had been painted over and I initially speculated that it may have had to do with the City of Los Angeles' moratorium on murals and billboards. When I inquired further I found out that the mural had been executed prior to being approved by MOCA because MOCA’s people were in Miami for Art Basel at the time... This is a complex situation that could have been avoided [altogether] with better communication. 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. It would be tragic for the break through of a street art /graffiti show at a respected institution like MOCA to be sabotaged by public outcry over perceived antagonism or insensitivity in Blu’s mural. Graffiti is enough of a contentious issue already. The situation is unfortunate but I understand MOCA’s decision. Sometimes I think it is better to take the high road and forfeit a battle but keep pushing to win the war. Street art or graffiti purists are welcome to pursue their art on the streets as they always have without censorship. I think that though MOCA wants to honor the cultural impact of the graffiti/street art movement, it only exists in its purist form in the streets from which it arose.
— Shepard Fairey
— David Ng
Photo: The anti-war-themed mural by Italian street artist Blu, featuring military-style coffins draped by large dollar bills instead of flags. MOCA both commissioned and removed the work on the north wall of the Geffen Contemporary in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Brian Forrest.