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Kerfuffle in the LA Art Scene

December 13, 2010

Has anyone considered the possibility that both the mural and its whitewashing are the art?

Los Angeles Art Story: A mural by Italian street artist BLU, ostensibly commissioned by one of my home town museums MOCA, has been painted over in the course of an afternoon. The Press gets their panties in a bunch. Art Lovers shudder! Film at 11.

BLU mural in mid White Washing (Photo: unurth)

The mural in question, a sprawling and ambitious depiction of coffins/caskets draped with oversized dollar bills, is (or should I say was) a powerful piece of political mise en scene. The image is/was as politically charged as they come but also incredibly evocative. Then, it was painted over by the commissioning body MOCA. The resulting coverage from the literal white washing is, perhaps, the real story. In article after article, in post after post, an hysteric pitch has been whipped up like an $8 latte.  The LA Times and the Huffington Post and art centric blogs Hyperallergic and Artinfo all  lead their coverage with either implications or accusations of censorship by MOCA. Only The New York Times delivered a rather cut and dried account of the events. (The links above are all to the specific articles on the kerfuffle.)

And oh the comments on the websites, particularly on the Huffington Post, are littered with tirades against censorship, Jeffrey Deitch (newly ensconced director of MOCA) and the establishment in general. Yet not one “intrepid” journalist cared to delve into the work itself or the artist. I have seen and followed the artist BLU for over a year now and a lot of his work revolves around stop motion animation documentation of his street painting. The work is funny and scary and technically extremely accomplished in a raw and rough paradigm. Imagine William Kentridge‘s intimate charcoal animations executed on building walls. And the methodology for creating these 2-8 min flights of fancy often involves painting out, with white nonetheless, elaborate work. Here’s an excellent example of what I’ve just described. At the 2:30 min mark of this 8 min tour de force the artist himself wields the white roller with extension arm!

This video it must be added has been viewed over 2 million times on YouTube and another, titled MUTO has been seen 8.3 million times.

My observations are twofold:

1.) It’s entirely plausible that both the mural and its whitewashing are the art. Deitch’s notable absence from the coverage speaks volumes to the potential of letting this street theater unfold in real-time. Not so much misdirection as letting the misguided lead themselves into “discussions,” “assumptions,” and “accusations” that become part of the art. If this is indeed the case, which I privately hope, then the brilliance is awe-inspiring. The artist’s own statement which appeared in Animal is sufficiently cryptic to confirm my suspicions. BLU is quoted:

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…

2.) As for the knee jerk coverage, I can only be flabbergasted by the whiny, defensive and ridiculously naive state of both the journalists covering the proceedings and those art enthusiasts who, it seems, can be so personally hurt without any sense of actual engagement. Contemporary Art is filled with meta commentary. And for those who may doubt that all this was indeed the artist’s intention I lob one final salvo: perhaps Deitch is the artist and BLU is the medium.

I leave you with an excellent image by Mark Tansey that I thought of when I saw the video of the white washing sequence of the BLU mural.

Mark Tansey, Triumph Over Mastery II, 1987, Oil on Canvas, 98" x 68"

Yes, his shadow is being painted over also. And while it hard to see, the grisaille image that is being white washed is a section of Michelangelo Last Judgment panel of the Sistine Chapel.

BLU website

Excellent pictures at Unurth Street Art

Many Thanks to RB!

-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, December 13th, 2010

  1. Great Post. The mural is still there! Absence and coverage is as powerful as the mural to me, and a credit to the power of the mural. Covering it is a part of the piece. Great point! It’s the concept behind MetaPainting.

    Thanks for the thanks!

    • Well, you sniffed it and I pounced. It’s pretty groovy being part of the dialogue in a substantive fashion.

  2. Thank you Herr Muller for a sensible, non-reactionary, artistic (and well-written) response to the nonsense out there. If being part of the conversation means being part of the art, then you are an artist superior.

    • Thanks TSK, It’ll be interesting how it all plays out. I’m already on to a follow up so stay tuned, MMM

  3. Very interesting post, Mario! I think you may be on to something.

    • Thanks SJ! It’s fun being part of the dialogue. Hope to accelerate the postings in the new year to once a week. So stay tuned…Happy Holidaze.

  4. BossMoss permalink

    Terrific post! I agree that ephemeral art works are wonderful; without them there would be even less wall space in museums.
    The addition of the Tansey was icing on the Cake.

  5. We are getting hit on both coasts…now with the Smithsonian censorship of sorts, it’s just the paranoia of ruffling a right wing feather or two that leads to a messy panic. Thanks for your reporting/commentary Herr Muller!

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