Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Charged with Censorship

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December 14, 2010; Source: Hyperallergic | Critics said that art world celebrity Jeffrey Deitch’s move to direct the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art would shake things up, and events last week proved them right. Blu, the renowned Italian street artist, was commissioned by the museum to paint a mural on the museum’s Geffen Contemporary wing, and work commenced last Wednesday. But by midday Thursday, the museum had covered over the work with a fresh coat of paint.

Blu’s mural was to announce and celebrate the museum’s upcoming Art in the Streets exhibition, which was set to be Deitch’s big splash. The show, a survey of street art over the past four decades, was the kind of unconventional show that the art world wanted to see, but it seems that the museum bit off more than it could chew.

The piece depicts coffins draped in American one-dollar bills—in place of the flag, which is typical for soldiers killed in war. The museum deemed the anti-war message inappropriate, and Deitch recently explained that the whitewash was a courtesy to LA MOCA’s neighbors, a veterans care center and remembrance site. “This is 100% about my effort to be a good, responsible, respectful neighbor in this historic community . . . Out of respect for someone who is suffering from lung cancer, you don’t sit in front of them and start chain smoking,” Deitch said.

With a national debate still raging over the Smithsonian’s decision to remove David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” video from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., many have decried the big museums’ comfort with censoring art to save face. Others still have suggested it’s just a marketing ploy.

No matter MOCA’s reasoning, and ignoring for a minute the merits of their argument, the museum’s silence about the issue was inexcusably, uncomfortably long. In his defense, Deitch has said stewardship of a public institution requires balancing “a different set of priorities—standing up for artists and also considering the sensitivities of the community.” Were his sympathies with the veterans, and his thoughts about holding together a community, Deitch should have broken the silence to speak publicly about the ordeal much earlier.—James David Morgan