These are sure strange times for museum censorship. This past Wednesday, trans-global street artist Blu put the finishing touches on a MOCA-commissioned mural covering one side of the Geffen building. On Thursday, the museum whitewashed the mural into nonexistence, as the understandably furious artist watched. Street art blog Unurth has pictures, and Vandalog seems to have been the first to post MOCA’s explanation:
“MOCA commissioned Blu, one of the world’s most outstanding street artists to create a work for the north wall of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.
The Geffen Contemporary building is located on a special, historic site. Directly in front the north wall is the Go For Broke monument, which commemorates the heroic roles of Japanese American soldiers, who served in Europe and the Pacific during World War II, and opposite the wall is the LA Veterans’ Affairs Hospital. The museum’s director explained to Blu that in this context, where MOCA is a guest among this historic Japanese American community, the work was inappropriate. MOCA has invited Blu to return to Los Angeles to paint another mural.”
As I write, a video of the erasure has 6917 views on YouTube.
Perhaps this doesn’t raise the grand philosophic issues that the Smithsonian’s censoring of David Wojnarowicz does. Yet it’s got some interesting angles of its own, notably the viral conspiracy-theorizing. Check out the posts on the blog Good Culture. Or don’t; I’ll give you the executive summary.
(a) Jeffrey Deitch commissioned the mural as a publicity stunt—intending all along to whitewash it and milk the media cow.
(b) Blu (who may or may not have been in cahoots with Deitch) planned the whitewashing all along, as a performance commenting on Smithsoniangate, WikiLeaks, or the fleeting nature of street art.
For what it’s worth, my guess is neither of the above. The museum gave Blu a free hand, as they should have. They couldn’t have predicted what he’d come up with, much less any unintended consequences. This is street art. When it was done, somebody in the Little Tokyo community complained. Deitch and company concluded it was more prudent to erase an artwork (whose very existence had not been publicized) than to defend it, month after month, against claims that the museum was insensitive to its Little Tokyo neighbors.
Possible new concept: Deitch can be prudent?
Probable miscalculation: The speed of the contemporary news cycle. MOCA’s erasure was news before the mural was news, or could have been news.
Has Deitch, high-low champion of graffiti-ism, lost street cred? Advised one poster: “Welcome to LA, Deitch; now leave the streets to the artists.”