Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) will present a large-scale exhibition devoted to Street Art in April, 2011. Ostensibly in connection with that show, the Museum invited the Italian street artist known as BLU to apply his talents to a large exterior wall at MOCA's downtown Geffen Contemporary building. This the artist did, two days ago. And today his work is gone, whitewashed clean away.
Here, from BLU's blog entry for today—where he describes it as "a really nice, big wall, in downtown L.A."—is his photo of what exists* now:
And here, via UNURTH, is a view of BLU's work in the process of being effaced:
More photos, all by Casey Caplowe, can be viewed at the UNURTH link above. The Los Angeles Downtown News has a story with an accompanying slideshow of the mural in context and in the process of removal.
What exactly has happened here is unexplained at this writing. No statements have been forthcoming from either MOCA or the artist thus far. The Downtown News observes:
A MOCA spokeswoman would not comment on the whitewashing, but the piece may have struck a delicate nerve center that sits just steps from the wall. The piece faces the Veterans Administration healthcare building on Temple Street. The dollar bills draped on Blu’s caskets seem to be an overt replacement of the customary American flags that cover the coffins of soldiers killed in wartime.
Some are speculating that what might first seem to be censorship is actually some variety of stunt, implying that the artist is a willing "victim" of some marketing team.
Whilst we wait for someone to put on their Crack Investigative Art Journalist hat and to explain it all, the fleeting presence of BLU's work in our fair city is all the excuse I need to repost his most recent and sensational work of wall-painted animation, BIG BANG BIG BOOM:
The closing remark in that earlier post of mine is seeming almost prophetic. I wrote:
Had this project been attempted in Los Angeles, odds are that the World would end not with a bang, but a restraining order.
A thick coat of paint is, after all, a restraining order by other means.
UPDATE 1455 PST: Time-lapse video of the mural as its new winter coat was applied.
* It has been suggested to me in comments elsewhere that the photo may actually be a pre-mural version of the Geffen Contemporary exterior, taken by the artist some days ago in anticipation of putting up the mural, but only posted belatedly to his blog. Certainly possible, since the "Geffen Contemporary" signage is likely preexisting.
UPDATE II 0840 PST 121110: Vandalog has published an emailed response from MOCA explaining the effacement of the mural. It confirms the leading, most plausible theory: the MOCA was concerned that the image equating military deaths with the pursuit of mere cash could be deemed inappropriate or offensive to the community when juxtaposed with the Geffen Contemporary's immediate neighbors, particularly the Veterans Administration hospital facility across the street and the "Go For Broke" monument to Japanese-American soldiers of World War II adjacent to the MOCA parking lot. (The Geffen Contemporary is located in Los Angeles' "Little Tokyo" district; the "Go For Broke" monument appears in the Downtown News slideshow, above.)
MOCA's email also represents that BLU has been invited to return in the near future to use the same wall for a new and different mural. In a fresh email update received and published by Hyperallergic, the artist does not address whether he will or will not return.
It would be interesting to know when and how MOCA's administration learned of the content of BLU's piece. If it was actually approved by MOCA prior to its execution, the museum's sudden case of cold feet after the fact becomes harder to explain. If MOCA was caught by surprise by the artist's seeming insensitivity to the neighbors, its decision to paint over the work is somewhat easier to explain, although not necessarily more justifiable. (MOCA has never been an institution to shun potential offense to viewers inside its galleries. Reasonable minds can differ whether a less aggressive stance is required for the more public statements on an exterior wall.) There have been no reports of actual complaints about the mural from the community.
Bonus Fun Fact: Also across the street from the Geffen Contemporary, next to the VA hospital, is the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, which serves in part as a courthouse for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Two elements of a larger sculptural installation by Tom Otterness, "The New World" were removed (but later restored) in 1991 because of complaints from judges and from the building's Congressional namesake. This is a touchy neighborhood for art.
UPDATE III : The story continues today in a new post, "A Museum is Like a Fish".