Whitewash at MOCA: Jeffrey Deitch Censors Blu's Political Street Art Mural

Whitewash at MOCA: Jeffrey Deitch Censors Blu's Political Street Art Mural

Is street art too hot for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art? The genre is known for its feisty, topical energy — fire that Los Angeles MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, a longtime street-art evangelist, hoped to tap into with its much-anticipated upcoming "Art in the Streets" survey of graffiti greats. Now that show is likely to be stalked by controversy after the institution ordered the whitewashing of a mural by the well-known street artist Blu on the outside wall of the Geffen Contemporary building. The work had been commissioned as part of the run-up to the show's April 17 opening. Apparently, the erasure was an effort to avoid a political uproar. Instead, it seems likely to ignite one.

For his work on the museum's exterior wall, Blu created a massive panorama of coffins draped in one dollar bills — a provocative image considering that the wall faces an L.A. Veterans' Affairs Hospital, as well as the so-called Go For Broke monument, which honors Japanese-American soldiers who fought in the Pacific during World War II. The mural was whitewashed on Thursday, mere hours after the mural went up on Wednesday night. According to a statement issued by MOCA, "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."

It's not clear whether the museum knew of the design in advance, or whether it actually received any complaints before erasing it. Los Angeles Downtown News contacted the veterans affairs center management, who said that they had not complained, while reps from the National Go For Broke Education Center said that while some members found the mural to be in poor taste, the organization had not voiced any objections to the museum.

Footage of the erasure has quickly circulated on street art blogs and became a sensation. In L.A. MOCA's statement, the museum says it has "invited Blu to return to Los Angeles to paint another mural." The Bologna-based artist, known for giant cartoon images that often deal with violence, is often listed as one of the brightest lights of the worldwide graffiti art scene. He has painted murals for such prominent venues as the Tate Modern, where he was part of a high-profile 2008 show

So, what does the artist think about all this? Apparently he was on the scene for the whitewashing. Street art advocate and curator Daniel Lahoda told Los Angeles Downtown News that the artist was unhappy with the development. Blu's personal blog, which features two posts dated the day after the take-down, strikes a comical, if cryptic, note. One post features a drawing of the museum as a giant coffee pot, with a punning line (in Italian) underneath: "Of course, the first time I heard 'MOCA' this is what I thought of." The second features a picture of the whitewashed Geffen Contemporary wall with a caption in English: "a really nice, big wall, in downtown L.A."

UPDATE: Blu has said he is not going to return to MOCA to make a second mural, and he has issued the following statement to Animal New York:

"sad story
but watching the reactions is much more
interesting than giving my personal opinion

"the facts are known:

"Blu is asked by Moca to paint a wall
the wall is painted (not completely finished
Moca decides to erase the wall
the wall is now white

"the images are already public
everyone can make his own idea about the event

"for everything else
time will tell…."

To see the mural being painted over, watch the video below.