Answers to why Blu’s mural was removed in LA

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

MOCA asks Blu to paint mural, buffs mural after 24 hours

I heard the most wonderful news recently: Blu was about to paint a huge mural in LA. This week, that’s exactly what he did. Blu was invited to paint the wall by MOCA, the museum where Jeffrey Deitch is about to put on a major street art exhibition. In fact, the mural was painted on one of the walls of MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary. A mural by Blu would probably be, for me, a highlight of that exhibition. Unfortunately, less than a day after the mural was finished (and yes, it had been finished), it has been completely painted over by MOCA workers. What’s going on here? So far, nobody really knows. MOCA has declined to comment.

Unurth has more images, GOOD offers some speculation and LA Downtown News has a bit to add to the story. Most interesting given the content of Blu’s mural, LA Downtown News notes that the mural faced a Veterans Administration building and was also within sight of a war memorial. No evidence to say whether either of those things factored in to why the mural was removed though.

The buffing of this mural is especially worrying to me given the current controversy at the National Portrait Gallery about the removal of controversial art. Hopefully there will be more answers about what is going on in here in the next few days.

Photo by Unurth

MOCA street art show book (and a small rant about the show)

Art In the Streets is an upcoming book by Jeffrey Deitch, Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose. The book, available April 12th, coincides with Deitch’s street art exhibition coming to MOCA next spring (Rose and Gastman are involved in putting the show together). While this will probably be just another nice exhibition catalog once it’s published, the official does provide further insight into what the MOCA show will be about (emphasis added):

The first large-scale American museum exhibition to survey the colorful history of graffiti and street art movements internationally. Graffiti has been a form of public communication and identification since ancient times. In its contemporary manifestation, it has redefined the urban landscape and influenced generations of artists. This landmark exhibition traces the birth and dissemination of styles through “writers” and street artists around the world—including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Blu, Martha Cooper, Shepard Fairey, Stelios Faitakis, Futura, Phil Frost, Os Gêmeos, Keith Haring, Todd James (REAS), Margaret Kilgallen, Lady Pink, Barry McGee (Twist), Steve Powers (ESPO), Lee Quinones, Retna, Kenny Scharf, Swoon, and Ed Templeton, among many others—focusing on New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, as well as international locations. Highlighting the connection between graffiti and street art and other vibrant subcultures, such as those that developed around Hip Hop in the Bronx and skateboarding in Southern California, Art in the Streets explores parallel movements in dance and music. A selection of new works created for the show is presented alongside the historical survey of approximately 30 of the most important artists seminal to the genre. The exhibition is curated by MoCA Director Jeffrey Deitch, working with a curatorial advisory committee that includes Charlie Ahearn, Roger Gastman, Carlo McCormick, and Aaron Rose.

It’s interesting to see the direction this exhibition is taking with the choice of artists, but a bit predictable as well:

  • Aaron Rose is best-known for Alleged Gallery and Beautiful Losers, the film about that gallery, and Deitch Projects picked up a number of artists who had been showing at Alleged Gallery (Steve Powers, Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen), and a number of the “Beautiful Losers” are included in Art In The Streets.
  • A number of the artists (Martha Cooper, Futura, Barry McGee, Shepard Fairey, Stelios Faitakis, Os Gêmeos, Kenny Scharf and Swoon if memory serves) were all involved in last year’s Deitch-curated Wynwood Walls mural project.
  • Blu painted a mural sponsored by Deitch Projects.
  • Deitch Projects also work with Basquiat, Fairey, Os Gêmeos, Haring, Todd James, Scharf and Swoon (or their estates).

People are going to give MOCA shit for this, but you know what… It’s probably gonna be a good exhibition. Obviously it’s not exactly the show that myself or anyone else would have put together, but Deitch and his curatorial committee have good taste. Of course there’s going to have been some financial ties to the artists they select. If that weren’t the case, the show would have been woefully incomplete. Deitch Projects and Alleged Gallery both worked with some of the best artists associated with street art and graffiti. I can hardly imagine a stronger team putting together Art In The Streets, and I hope that, when this opens, people can look past potential conflicts of interests and just appreciate the show on its own merits.

Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

Jeffrey Deitch’s street art show at MOCA LA

One of Jenny Holzer's Inflammatory Essays. She had better be in this show if it's to be any good

A few months ago, this was mentioned briefly in an NYTimes article, but now the first real information is starting to come out about Jeffrey Deitch’s upcoming street art show at MOCA in LA. Culture Monster has a post all about the show, Art in the Streets. I’ve been hearing a lot of great things about this event for a while, but it’s all been rumors, so it’s nice to finally get some facts to write about.

Deitch says that Art in the Streets aims to be a broad look at street art, but will also dig deep into the history of outdoor art. That sounds like music to my ears, but it also sounds like a nearly insurmountable challenge. For example, the show will certainly involve graffiti, but so much graffiti had localized differences that now influence modern street artists and writers. So where do you draw the line at what to include? And what about the Philadelphia Mural Arts program, created to eradicate graffiti? It’s not street art, but it might deserve a place in a show titled Art in the Streets… Anyway, I’m sure we’ll know more in a few weeks when a formalized press release is sent out.

In the mean time, here’s what else is known…

  • Art in the Streets opens April 2011 at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary
  • The show will include work from the last few years as well as art from as long ago as the 1970’s, which seems about right.
  • There will be around 25 artists doing installations/murals.
  • Banksy will be involved, so yeah. That’s interesting I guess… I’m not his biggest fan lately, so it’s hard for me to get excited about that.
  • Over 100 artists will be represented in the show.
  • Aaron Rose (from Alleged Gallery/the Beautiful Losers film) and all-around graffiti and street art expert Roger Gastman are helping to curate the show.

This show could be the best thing to happen to street art since… ever. But even if it’s not perfect, it’s still going to be pretty damn good. Deitch isn’t going to screw this up. He, Rose and Gastman all know their shit.

Photo by Lord Jim

The Rumor Mill: Deitch planning street art show at MOCA LA?

Jeffrey Deitch and Aiko Nakagawa

This is about a week old now, but I’ve just seen that the NYTimes has done an article on Jeffrey Deitch and his transition from running his Deitch Projects gallery to now being the director of LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Of course, the article is mostly about how Deitch is handling that transition and why his move from running a gallery to running a museum is so unique. Okay. Nothing new here. People have been talking about that transition for months.

There was one particularly interesting sentence though: “And he is working to put together a major exhibition about the influence of street art, a movement that was central to the identity of Deitch Projects in recent years.”

Of course, I’d heard plenty of speculation that something like that would happen, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it confirmed and stated as fact. Awesome. There probably isn’t anyone in the world better positioned than Jeffrey Deitch to put on a major street art exhibition in a major museum. Sounds like this is still the early days of planning, so maybe the show is a long time away and maybe it won’t end up happening, but at least we now know that it might happen and that Deitch would like it to.

Photo by sabeth718

May Day!

May 1st was the opening of what may surpass Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop as the street art event of the year so far: Shepard Fairey’s May Day show at Deitch Projects. Because the opening evening was open the public instead of simply a guest-list-only affair, it got a bit mad. I’ve heard that lines were 7 blocks long just to get in. And a friend tells me that the after-party was one of the best parties of the year. It’s taken a few days, but some photos of the artwork have finally come online.

The largest piece in the show (pictured above) is a 4-part series of canvases similar to the mural that Shepard has at Houston and Bowery. No doubt it will end up in a museum. The question is, which one? Perhaps more importantly, should it end up in a museum? It is really Shepard’s strongest work to date, or just his largest?

Capitalizing on the popularity of the Obama HOPE poster, Shepard has almost definitely made more than his usual number of portraits for this May Day, so that’s too bad.

Shepard’s flag is probably the most visually arresting and art historically significant newish image in May Day. Shepard no doubt owes a lot to Jasper Johns, particularly Johns’ use of newspaper and other materials collaged together as a base for his paintings, so it’s interesting to see Shepard’s take on the American flag (I should probably remind people that no, I don’t study art history or whatever, this is just my take on things, so no need to get all pissy – though I wouldn’t mind hearing if I’m totally wrong). Probably my favorite pieces in the show.

Two of my favorite classic Shepard Fairey images in the photo below: The OBEY printing press and Never Trust Your Own Eyes.

And of course, plenty of smaller stencils and rubyliths.

Is there a lot of not-so-amazing stuff in May Day? Of course. Is there some amazing artwork too? Of course. Shepard has always produced so much that it’s all a bit hit or miss, but those hits are more than worth wading through the misses. I wish I could see May Day in person. Looks like the must-see art event in New York right now. May Day runs through May 29th and then Deitch Projects closes down for good as Jeffrey Deitch takes up his new job as director of The MOCALA.

Photos by Incase, who have a flickr set with more photos from the show

All that Shepard Fairey news

Photo by Daniel Zana

Expect the next week or so to be filled with Shepard Fairey related news. He’s in New York for his upcoming May Day solo show at Deitch Projects. Here’s some of what’s happened already:

And I’d just like to note how much I love Shepard’s new flag image which appears to be one of the core images in May Day.

On Jeffrey Deitch and street art

Hrag Vartanian has a must-read post on Hyperallergic this week. It’s titled “The Emergence of Real Pop Art: Jeffrey Deitch & Street Art” and raises some interesting questions about the nature of street art within the “art world” and Deitch’s role in getting street art to where it is today. I certainly don’t agree with everything he has to say (particularly regarding Deitch’s role in the street art world), but it’s one of the most interesting blog posts I’ve read in a while.

Shepard Fairey’s May Day

News is starting to surface about Shepard Fairey’s solo show at Deitch Projects in New York City. Most importantly, the show is called May Day and runs from May 1st through the 29th. This flag piece looks amazing, which is particularly good news since a few other pictures from the show have been surfacing lately, and the portraits that Shepard is painting look to me like he’s just phoning it in.

Here’s the press release:

Deitch Projects is pleased to present May Day, an exhibition of new work by Shepard Fairey, as its final project. Titled not only in reference to the day of the exhibition’s opening, the multiple meanings of May Day resonate throughout the artist’s new body of work. Originally a celebration of spring and the rebirth it represents, May Day is also observed in many countries as International Worker’s Day or Labor Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations coordinated by unions and socialist groups. “Mayday” is also the distress signal used by pilots, police and firefighters in times of emergency.

With energy and urgency befitting the title May Day, Fairey captures the radical spirit of each of his subjects, using portraiture to celebrate some of the artists, musicians and political activists he most admires. Says Fairey, “These people I’m portraying were all revolutionary, in one sense or another. They started out on the margins of culture and ended up changing the mainstream. When we celebrate big steps that were made in the past, it reminds us that big steps can be made in the future.”

Many of the steps Fairey refers to involve the advocacy of the working class, put forth in the songs of Joe Strummer and Woody Guthrie and the writings of Cornel West, and among the works of other heroes portrayed in May Day. International Worker’s Day celebrated in nearly 100 countries throughout the world, commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago when a peaceful rally supporting workers on strike was disrupted by a bomb, and then a barrage of police gunfire. Because of negative sentiment surrounding the incident, U.S. President Grover Cleveland decided it was best to avoid celebrating the day, but it is precisely such sentiment that Fairey believes must be voiced: “It’s a day to express frustration with the powers that be, but also a day for activists to pursue ideals.” In May Day, he does both, with images supporting free speech and bemoaning the U.S. two party political system, pushing for renewable energy and critiquing corporate propaganda.

In Fairey’s mind, the persistence of difficulties across all of these arenas—political, environmental, economic, cultural—points to that third meaning of May Day: a distress signal. “By now we thought we would be in post-Bush utopia, but we’re still having to call attention to these problems,” he remarks. Like any mayday call, however, the sounding of the alarm also brings hope for help on the way. “If we stay silent, there’s no hope,” Fairey muses. “But if we make noise, if we put our ideas out there, then maybe we can make a change like the people in the portraits have done.”


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