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Street artists hold protest performance at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary

January 4, 2011 |  6:24 am

Censorship or sensitivity? The debate rages on.

A crew of street and graffiti artists, together with a handful of war veterans, gathered Monday night in the dark, empty parking lot of MOCA's Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo to stage a guerrilla protest performance against the museum's director, Jeffrey Deitch. Cloaked in knit caps and heavy wool scarves in the cold night air, the 20 or so self-described art activists huddled near the museum's expansive north wall, projecting laser graffiti out of the back seat of a silver VW Passat with a laptop perched precariously on the roof of the car.


The group of artists -- which included respected Chicano artist/Vietnam War veteran Leo Limon as well as Joey Krebs a.k.a. The Phantom Street Artist -- took turns tagging the museum wall using a handmade laser graffiti gun created for the event by artist/computer programmer Todd Moyer. A specially designed computer program animated the light-graffiti so that it looked like dripping paint as it hit the wall.

The MOCA wall has been blank since Deitch had Italian street artist Blu's antiwar mural whitewashed from it in early December. Deitch had commissioned Blu to paint the mural; but after it was completed, Deitch became concerned that its provocative imagery of coffins draped in dollar bills would be offensive to some in the neighborhood as it was adjacent to a Veterans Affairs hospital and a war memorial to Japanese American soldiers. The incident sparked heated, and sharply divided, opinions that continue to rattle many in the art community.

"All of us political poster artists have been a little outraged," said artist Karen Fiorito. "It shows how corporations and private institutions can control the dialogue in the public forum."

One by one, the artists took aim and shot their messages onto MOCA's exterior -- drippy, handwritten, illuminated scrawl: "Dump Deitch." "Give us back our walls!" "War is over?" "Peace Now!"  The group meticulously documented the event, with plans to upload photos and video clips to Facebook and YouTube within days.




Carol Wells, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, was on hand to document the protest as well. She said she considers Deitch's actions as censorship. "Outrageous is the first word that comes to mind," she said. "I think he was absolutely wrong. He was trying to do an edgy exhibit, hires an artist known to be edgy. Pushing the boundaries is the very definition of a street artist –- so what did he expect?"

Vietnam War veteran Michael Lindley, president of the L.A. chapter of Veterans for Peace, showed up to support the street art crew. Lindley said he wasn't offended by Blu's mural but that that wasn't the point. "It may be offensive to some people, but we have the freedom to know, freedom of speech. As veterans, that's what we fight for, that's what we died for," he said. "Our government tells us we’re fighting for our freedoms. Yet they take our own freedoms away from us in our own country."

The climax of the laser light show came about an hour in, when the protesters projected a photo of Blu's mural back onto its wall of origin. Then they superimposed the word "censorship" in red across the image. A round of hooting and whistling followed.


The ultimate irony, said Krebs, is that "[Deitch] lit a fire to the work that's been deemed unacceptable."

So what, exactly, does this impassioned group hope to accomplish with the elaborate laser graffiti protest? "It’s really just about making a statement. About coming out to support Blu and freedom of speech," said artist John Carr.  "If it keeps the conversation going, that's great. But we've already achieved what we set out to do."

-- Deborah Vankin

Photos: 1) A street artist prepares the projector. 2) Street artists and war veterans document the protest; 3) A light display; 4) An artist with a laser gun; 5) Another light display; 6) A photo of Blu's mural superimposed onto the exterior of MOCA's Geffen Contemporary. Credit: Deborah Vankin



Comments () | Archives (38)

I just love those liberal activists; they're always making statements. They're good at making statements.

Im glad they are doing this.... MOCA should not have censored art... MOCA should support free expression, regardless of the political ramifications

street and graffiti artists = unemployed losers.

"Give us back our walls". They aren't your walls. Blu was paid to paint a mural for a client. The client didn't like the mural and painted it over. That is not censorship. Blu is free to express himself by buying a big canvas and painting anything he wants. He can even buy his own building if he wants to. Quit whining.

I read this upcoming exhibition below at the Pasadena Museum of California Art website...are these the same group of artists?

treet Cred: Graffiti Art from Concrete to Canvas
May 15, 2011 - September 4, 2011

Street Cred joins the work created by Los Angeles graffiti artists for a fine art context with their graffiti art made in the streets. Internationally renowned as one of the most fertile grounds for graffiti art, the City of Angels has its own idiosyncratic graffiti styles created from the innovative New York "wildstyle" that heralded the birth of graffiti as it is seen today, filtered through local influences such as gang writing styles that greatly predate the modern movement.

The exhibition will include photographs from the crucial years of the graffiti scene, providing key insights into the visual "language" of graffiti, its development in Los Angeles, and the ways in which the street work informs the canvas work in the exhibition.

Artists featured in the exhibition include Michael Alvarez, Angst, Chaz Bojórquez, Codak, Craola, Dash, Ekundayo, Ewok, Eye, Gajin Fujita, Haste, Alex Kizu, Kofie, Man One, Mear, Juan Carlos Muñoz, Nicnak, Push, Risk, Jeff Soto, Evan Skrederstu, Retna, Revok, Saber, Jesse Simon, Siner, Skept, and Zes.

Since when do "street" "artists" ask museums for permission to put work up?

As if this group of ineffectual bohos wasn't silly enough already, they have now turned themselves into laughing stocks.

Of course, for saying this, it must be proof that I'm just a corporate Nazi Bush-loving fascist. Or something other nonsense.

And of course, by the time we read this, these "street" "artists" will be back behind their desks at their 6-figure graphic design jobs (for Urban Outfitters or Barack Obama or Nike or whoever) drinking lattes while occasionally mumbling something about "the Man".

This reminds me of Rockefellar destroying Diego Rivera's mural because of its political content. Has Deitch no shame? Great protest! Keep up the good work!

Is not acceptable to express how you feel thru Art? Expression is part of life. Go my brothers/sisters!!

one world-one art-with all respect,greetings from barcelona ,bluebird artist

You must not censor art. Period. It is as simple as that.
You might not like it. It might be against every bit of your grain. But you must not censor it.

Those who try to stiffle and censor art, the most beautiful trial to bring our lives into focus, the very act of beauty itself, are allready dying themselves.

As for the notion that the art was paid for, or was comissioned, and therefore its up to the purchaser to do as he/she wishes; it is complete nonense. It is the very expression of a mind lost in menaingless consumption.

Art has nothing to do with it. The artist and the person financing a project, as in this case with at least the canvas (maybe more?), agree on a mutual act of creation, an act of beauty, an act of artistic expression. Both have a repsonsibility. If you comission an artist you must be fully aware of wy you commission her. ask all the questions you need. Once the creative proces is in motion, the art is being made. Your influence has ceised. To whitewash the art after its cration is cruel beyond understanding. It is censorship. It must not happen.

If you are not living on the edge you are taking up to much space...!

Jeffrey Deitch created the situation that led to this dialogue. Both sides are right, and both points are noted. Los Angeles should be happy to have him in town.

Those aren't their walls.

This isn't censorship.


Self expression is therapy, not art. Creative Art is expressIVE of life, of the world around us, of our common humanity. Self absorbed rantings of children does not equal art. Nor the "dialogue' of those with nothing to worthwhile to say.

Save the spiritual Watts Towers(Nuestro Pueblo) tear down the infantile daycare Ivories

The mural was just a “Process Art” collaboration between MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch and the “artist named only Blu.”

[Process Art is a creative sentiment and world view where the end product of art and craft, the objet d’art, is not the principal focus. The 'process' in process art refers to the process of the formation of art: the gathering, sorting, collating, associating, and patterning. Process art is concerned with the actual doing; seeing the art as pure human expression. Art is the creative journey or process rather than the end product.]

The community reaction and commentaries demonstrate a successful collaboration. - TK

Any respectable street artist would have just done a piece on the wall. This is about nothing more that creating hype around participating artists for there personal gain. Shame on them!

"One might have expected that Deitch would have waited for any type of community outcry, or held a public forum on the mural, but this did not happen. He explains his reasoning for prompt action as such, “Out of respect for someone who is suffering from lung cancer, you don't sit in front of them and start chain smoking.” (2) The problem with this logic is that he assumes that all Japanese Americans and all veterans think alike: i.e. they are uncritical of war and easily offended by anti-war art."
-Nicolas Lampert in Street Art Blu's

And we care about these vandals why . . . ?

Just more bad art.

All you beautiful people who still insist on this not being an act of censorship, your argument is not with the artist(s) or anyone else, your argument is really with the dictionary!

   /ˈsɛnsər/ Show Spelled[sen-ser] Show IPA
an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, cablegrams, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds.
any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.
an adverse critic; faultfinder.
(in the ancient Roman republic) either of two officials who kept the register or census of the citizens, awarded public contracts, and supervised manners and morals.
(in early Freudian dream theory) the force that represses ideas, impulses, and feelings, and prevents them from entering consciousness in their original, undisguised forms.


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