A censorship debate is raging about a recently buffed mural by Italian street artist Blu.
It was commissioned by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) ahead of its show Art of the Streets.
The mural depicted coffins with dollar bills strewn over. It was a compelling and politically charged statement about sending soldiers to war and the commercial interests of the people they die for.
It was quickly buffed on orders from MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, who was at a Miami art fair as Blu worked on it. His reasons were: 1. A war memorial was across the street, 2. Logistics got in the way of a sit-down with Blu to discuss the mural's content.
Is this case about censorship, or simply bad planning?
Here are comments from different websites about the debacle:
Blu (via LA Times) -
It is censorship that almost turned into self-censorship when they asked me to openly agree with their decision to erase the wall. In Soviet Union they were calling it 'self-criticism.'
Deitch invited me to paint another mural over the one he erased, and I will not do that.
Jeffrey Deitch -
This is 100% about my effort to be a good, responsible, respectful neighbor in this historic community. Look at my gallery website — I have supported protest art more than just about any other mainstream gallery in the country. But as a steward of a public institution, I have to balance a different set of priorities — standing up for artists and also considering the sensitivities of the community.
Shepard Fairey (via LA Times) -
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.
Wooster Collective -
The reality is that fewer and fewer museums live up to our ideals. To keep their doors open, museums like MOCA need to appease powerful donors and mount shows that are commercial and bring in the masses. It's becoming rarer and rarer for museums to mount truly provocative shows that challenge us and change the course of our society.
The LA Times -
The appropriate time for the decision (to buff the mural) was before the mural went up, not after. After, the museum suffers a self-inflicted wound.
A comment from Nuart on a Vandalog post. The post sided with Deitch, ironically -
My biggest worry recently has been how on earth can independent events such as Nuart and Fame for example, compete with the likes of MOCA’s and TATE’s resources..what can we offer against such vast institutions wealth and influence. Happily, this event has answered that question. I imagine Deitch has learned a valuable lesson, and let's face it, his concerns were not for his "neighbours", who actually died fighting for fundamental rights such as "freedom of expression", but fear of his boards reaction. Curation through fear. That he now has to consider curating actual artwork, as opposed to "curating" names, is probably the best thing that can come of this.
I think this discussion is healthy as more and more street art is hosted in galleries and museums.
But does uncommissioned art fit inside the controlled space of a gallery?
Is there room for street art within the status quo?
I doubt it. 'Real' street art fails to realise its full potential when it's legal. Worse still if it's absorbed and fetishised in mainstream culture. Street art has routinely questioned the establishment, capitalism and orthodoxy.
I do think it has a place in the art history canon. However, this place is not where a Banksy rat munches stale chunks of cheese.
Galleries, museums and street artists should take the lessons learnt from this and continue doing the culture-changing work they do. Separately, if need be.
Protesting artists banned from the Smithsonian