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MOCA’s decision to paint over anti-war mural draws mixed reaction

December 15, 2010 |  9:02 am

MOCA had commissioned an Italian artist known as Blu to paint a mural on the north wall of the Geffen Contemporary museum, but later decided to remove it.

The Italian street artist Blu, whose anti-war mural was removed from the wall of the Geffen Contemporary building last week before the public could see it, has called the destruction of his mural by the Museum of Contemporary Art a form of censorship. Others say it was spectacularly bad planning on the part of the museum, which did not receive a proposal from the artist in advance of his starting work.

MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch said Monday that he ordered the whitewash of the mural because its imagery — coffins draped in dollar bills — was insensitive to a neighborhood that includes a Veterans Affairs hospital and a war memorial to Japanese American soldiers. Deitch, who had engaged Blu to paint the mural in the run-up to MOCA's "Art in the Street" exhibition in April, said he intended to confer with Blu on his plan for the wall before the artist began painting. The two were unable to meet, he said, when Blu's travel plans changed and Deitch left for an art fair in Miami. He said Blu began the mural while he was out of town.

One notable street artist — who at one time was represented by Deitch's former gallery in New York, Deitch Projects — was sympathetic to the director's actions and hoped that the episode would not affect the street-art show.

"This is a complex situation that could have been avoided altogether with better communication," Shepard Fairey, best known for his "Hope" painting of then-candidate Barack Obama, said in an e-mailed statement. "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."

"The situation is unfortunate but I understand MOCA's decision," Fairey said.

Read the full story here.

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-- Deborah Vankin

Photo: MOCA had commissioned an Italian artist known as Blu to paint a mural on the north wall of the Geffen Contemporary museum, but later decided to remove it. Credit: Casey Caplowe

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