Answers to why Blu’s mural was removed in LA

December 11th, 2010 | By | 31 Comments »

The street art community has been in a bit of a hubbub over a mural by Blu being painted over less than 24 hours after it was completed. Until now, MOCA, the museum that commissioned Blu to paint the mural on one of their walls, had stayed silent on why the mural was removed. In my post I tried not to jump to conclusions, but given what’s going on at the Smithsonian and the silence from MOCA, it was hard not to speculate and assume the worst: pointless censorship. Some people also speculated that the whole thing was a preplanned stunt. Luckily, it sounds like all this was just a series of unfortunate events, but with a reasonable explanation.

I’ve just received word from MOCA as to what happened:

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.

Certainly not the way you want mural projects to go, but if Blu understands and respects MOCA’s decision enough to paint another mural there, then I do too. This was not the pointless censorship that it has been painted to be by the internet, it is being respectful to the community that would be living with this art every day.

Photo by Unurth

Category: Art News, Featured Posts, Gallery/Museum Shows | Tags: , ,
  • ifrit

    Call it as you want, it’s censorship.

    Blu’s mural has a clear message, if it annoy you and you don’t want to hear it… well, censor it.

    There are many ways of understand street art, you can try to say something throught your art or just make some nice decoration. But, if I would have the chance, like Blu (I’m not an artist), of painting in a so huge wall and in a so significant place I would try to say something, to send some message. And I hope Blu will do it for a second time, and annoying more people this time.

    (This isn’t personal, I’m talking in general)

  • Shafiur

    The “respect” agenda is a pretext for a lot of things RJ.

    One of my favourite poems as a school kid was “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori” by the war poet Wilfred Owen. A respect agenda would have censored that awesome poem.

  • Dave Golden

    Censorship is censorship. MOCA and this show lost all credibility. What a crock of shit. This show is going to suck, that’s for sure…

    There is no compromising freedom.

    Often times, those who aren’t willing to stand up for freedom have never had to fight for it. Think about that and don’t be so willing to give them a pass. It could be your freedom next. Think about that.

  • Boogie

    So will any graffiti artists slated to be in the show at MOCA take a stand and refuse to participate in the exhibition? Probably not. Gotta get paid, right kids?

  • tyrant

    What MOCA fails to realize is that the location of the piece is exactly what makes it a great work. They give a weak response.

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  • rob

    Presumably they knew what he was going to be painting? So why didn’t they think of this before he painted it?

  • assholes

    Sensitivity to whatever you assholes.

    Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the censoring organization as determined by a censor.

    It’s clearly censorship.

    They commissioned an artist to make a statement in context and then removed it after they didn’t like what was said.

    It got buffed — just like any unauthorized mural on the street would have been.

    This fiasco reinforces how valuable the practice of unauthorized street art really is to a free society.

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  • Logan Hicks

    seems to me that if you invite Blu, you’re aware of the controversial content of his work. You don’t invite the bull into the China shop without expecting that it will break something.

    I would assume that they saw the murals in Norway in the oil town of Stavanger that poked fun of the oil industry there. or I would assume that they saw the murals down in Columbia that poked at the cocaine industry. So why would you want to invite him to paint and expect something that was not in line with his ethos? You don’t go see the Rolling Stones to see them perform opera, you don’t go see LeBron James to see him play soccer, and you don’t go see a Blu mural to see him make something ‘pretty and nice’. The beauty of Blu is that he makes stuff that makes you squirm a little bit.

    Secondly, it seems to me that if that was a concern, why wouldn’t you ask Blu to submit a sketch of the mural he was proposing before, so you could see the problems before they arise, and avoid the PR backlash that they are now facing.

    Third, once you saw him painting the mural, and you realized it was a problem, why wouldn’t you stop him early on and tell him that there is no need going further? Letting him finish the whole mural, then painting over it just seems like a very passive aggressive way of dealing with the whole thing.

    I understand the reasons, but that doesn’t really justify them. Seems like there were about a half dozen ways to avoid the situation they are currently in. I would have expected more out of MOCA.

  • RJ

    Deitch is a fraud and only just beginning to exploit graffiti? Let’s say, and I have a lot of respect for Deitch so I obviously don’t agree with this, that he is a fraud. In that case, he has been exploiting graffiti for quite a long time. Deitch helped propel Barry McGee, Dash Snow, Margaret Kilgallen, Swoon and others to the mainstream. He helped put together a major book on Keith Haring and knew Keith since the early 1980′s. His gallery managed the Haring estate. Deitch had even worked with Blu once before.

  • RJ

    4444 made a comment but I deleted it for language basically. He’s welcome to rephrase the basic point though.

  • Stein

    Now the street art community can learn what the LA art world is learning: Deitch is a fraud. He’s gutted MOCA and now he’ll exploit graffiti art.

  • Alison Young

    What seems odd about all this is the fact that the mural went up and THEN it was painted over…. Didn’t anyone ask Blu what he was thinking of painting beforehand? Especially if the wall was part of such a significant and sensitive site? I agree with Logan, Deitch for one (and hopefully others at MOCA) must know something about Blu’s work (as noted above, Deitch has worked with Blu before) and so the controversy can’t come as a surprise to them: Blu makes images that challenge people, that are politicised and that often interact with their surroundings in confrontational or challenging ways… So why didn’t someone find out what Blu was planning to paint? Seems like a lapse in communication somewhere along the way. And the whole shemozzle makes MOCA look – at best – pretty disorganised. … And Deitch has certainly helped certain artists into the mainstream but it doesn’t make him an artworld saint, nor does that history mean that this incident hasn’t been badly handled. I’m sure there was no ill will here, but to avoid it looking like censorship they needed to communicate better with Blu beforehand. Buffing the piece 24 hours after it goes up makes it look like a museum that didn’t care too much beforehand and afterwards didn’t care at all about the artist or the work, except that it should be removed. Issuing an invitation to repaint the wall doesn’t get around that fact.

  • Yo

    this whole thing smells funny. deitch knew what he was getting into.

  • Dave Golden

    What’s that RJ? You’ll have to take Jeffrey Deitch’s dick out of your mouth so we can hear you more clearly…

    J/K, you make a point… And Jeffrey made his money. Duh.

  • 4444

    Quite ironic that you censored my comment on a thread about censorship. Seems like the ‘New Puritanism’ is taking hold everywhere nowadays.

  • RJ

    It’s just occurred to me that I have never given any clear guidelines about comments on Vandalog. I’ve just added a section about that on the About page ( Hopefully that will give you an idea of what sort of comments I remove.

    For example, here’s what 4444 posted, but edited so that I wouldn’t delete it:
    The infamous youtube vid of the jumped up little jerk in his pink suit tells you all you need to know.

    One word is changed and while I disagree with 4444′s comment, I would have allowed it to be posted. Hopefully that makes things more clear.

  • 4444

    Fair enough. I think you over-reacted a bit there though. The word ‘tw*t’ that I used is just a synonym for idiot here in the UK and is often used on TV etc. Not half as offensive in my opinion as someone saying ‘take your dick out of his mouth’ which you allowed to be published. Although I’m not saying that should have been banned as well.

  • mucho

    Wow, Blu’s a brilliant artist but.. man, that mural is some high school sophomore lookin shit. maybe it’s for the better.

  • mucho

    to clarify, i’m not in agreement with censoring it. just saying it looks half-assed.

  • arbus

    dang ya’ll, tough crowd, I sorta agree with everyone but, these veterans we are talking about, WWII, they are in their 80′s, I do think its a little inappropriate

    I think you can do something with the same theme, but coffins and $$$ says that everything you fought for is a fraud and thats an arguement for society as a whole, Not for an 80 plus year old, old man who lost friends and family.

    Love Blu’s work and hope to see something just as poignant soon!

  • ferrous

    Its graffiti.. by its nature impermanent. A wicked, paid-for, finished piece in an excellent, appropriate location? It’ll be talked about for years and deserves a high media profile. I hope that BLU accepts doing another one and I hope its just as good. Pass this on, nothing dies on the internet ;P

  • Em

    Normally, I would have been incensed if some bigass art institution did something like this. And particularly when a bunch of NeoCons shout their outrage, censorship is bullshit.

    But when I found out about the Veterans affairs building nearby, for me it’s very different. A lot of the people entering and entering that building will remember their friends and family getting blown to pieces. And they already knew this message. In that context the piece wouldn’t provoke, it would simply sadden and hurt folks who probably already carry lifelong sadness and hurt. It’s kind of like painting a graphic picture of a rape right by the rape trauma center.

    As pointed out above, however, MOCA’s handling of this was sloppy. And also, even if the Veteran’s affairs office wasn’t there, would they have removed the mural anyway? (I think that’s possible.)

  • RJ

    Good point Em. It’s a Veterans Affairs building, not an army recruitment center.

  • RJ

    Logan, people have tried to get statements from Blu. AnimalNY has the longest statement from him but Hyperallergic got pretty much the same thing and so did I (although admittedly I just put it on twitter because I didn’t think it really added much to the story). Here’s what AnimalNY heard from Blu as of this morning:
    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 unfortunately)
    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…

  • Em

    Well, in another context I might agree with you. In fact, I’d raise you one and say that if any piece of ostensible “art” has a single and obvious meaning, it’s not art but propaganda.

    In this case, however, I think the intention may largely be irrelevant. I think that most veterans (particularly of Iraq and Vietnam) will not be able to help but interpret that piece a certain way, and that such an interpretation is bound to cause them additional unproductive sorrow (ie, they probably already know that a lot of US wars are just fronts for big US money and business).

    Interestingly, this is one of the very few (only?) times I’ve ever agreed with killing a piece.

    Add to that the point someone made above that the piece doesn’t even look that great and I didn’t get too worked up about it.

    So how about Diego Rivera’s mural back at the newly built Rockefeller Center? That’s one of the best mural-shocks ever.

  • Logan Hicks

    @em and arbus

    I think it’s a bit unfair for you to speak as though you know what the specific meaning was to his mural. I think that unless you have a statement from the artist you can’t speak about what it *really* means?

    What if it was a mural speaking about about the injustice faced by returning vietnam vets

    what if the piece was about unfair treatment of veterans by the US Government?

    what if the piece was about the lack of post combat medical care for veterans?

    what if it was about the subversion of the government by multinational corporations to suit the stock holder agenda?

    what if the piece is about how you can’t put a price tag on the memories of those who have laid down their life for their country?

    would that make a difference in your opinion?

    that is one of the things that bugs me about this thing, no one even bothered to get clarification from the artist that created it, or, if they did, they didn’t bother to educate the public about their decision.

    If blu issued a statement saying I think that wars are stupid and the people that fight in them are stupid too, then i would agree that it may be a bit insensitive, but to be the judge and jury on this is a bit heavy handed. Did the Veterans admin even complain? or did they assume that they would complain and take preemptive action?

  • Shef Rogers

    You can’t be serious. You’re OK with literally whitewashing art because it might make the neighbors uncomfortable?
    And you’re supposed to be some daring art site?
    My God, what happened to the US? Where did all the brave Americans go?

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