Today, Italian street artist Blu -- whose MOCA-commissioned anti-war mural on a wall of the Geffen Contemporary was taken down because museum Director Jeffrey Deitch found it insensitive to the neighborhood -- gave his side of the story in an e-mail that was posted online by a New York art blog. He also clarified the timeline of events as he sees it.
An e-mail exchange between graffiti photographer/chronicler Henry Chalfant and Blu was posted on Hyperallergic.com. In it, Blu says he “wasn’t expecting to be censored in ‘real-time’ by MOCA.” The artist also says he hasn’t yet been paid by MOCA for his work on the now whitewashed mural.
(When contacted by Culture Monster, Deitch said in an e-mail that "The wire transfer payment was sent to Blu yesterday, immediately after I received his invoice and wire instructions. His fee was paid by me personally, not by the museum. There was never any question as to whether or not Blu would be paid his agreed-upon fee.")
The mural –- which was commissioned in advance of MOCA’s April “Art in the Streets” show -- depicted rows of coffins draped in dollar bills. Deitch was concerned because there is a Veterans Affairs hospital and a war memorial to Japanese-American soldiers in the immediate surroundings.
In his letter to Chalfant, Blu says he spoke to “many people, including some war veterans, who … liked the mural, founding (sic) it truthful.”
Blu says he was asked by Deitch, over dinner, to paint another mural –- one that “invites people to come in the museum,” Blu wrote in his letter to Chalfant -- but the artist declined. The original mural was whitewashed a day later, which sparked a barrage of alleged censorship claims that heated up the blogosphere for several days.
When Blu returned to Italy, he received an e-mail from Deitch asking him to sign a press release, he says, “explaining the motivation of the cancellation in order to calm down the censorship accusation.” The artist refused that as well. “Signing it would have meant technically ‘self-censorship,’ he wrote in the letter.
"I had no objection to the content or the imagery of Blu’s mural," Deitch said in the e-mail to Culture Monster. "The issue was the context, directly in front of the Go For Broke monument. Blu’s mural will be reproduced in the book that will accompany the exhibition."
[For the Record, 8:20 a.m. Monday: An earlier version of this story referred to Japanese-American soldiers as Japanese soldiers.]
-- Deborah Vankin
Photo: Blu's mural, depicting military-style coffins draped with dollar bills, is painted over. Credit: Casey Caplowe GOOD
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