Blu on MOCA Buff: The Whole Story

12.17.10 Marina Galperina

In a letter to famed graffiti photographer Henry Chalfant (below), Blu gives the most complete commentary on MOCA whitewashing his mural. Deitch never asked for a sketch. On the 6th day of painting Blu was just drawing the dollar bills when Deitch decided the mural was offensive. Blu stopped. Deitch asked for a different mural. Blu declined. Deitch asked for Blu to sign a press release which Blu considered “self-censorship” and declined. As of yet, Blu has not been paid.

The artist also re-states that while “some people (mostly people related with L.A.MOCA or Jeffrey Deitch)” call the buff a “curatorial choice,” it was censorship defined. He also talks of speaking with many vets who liked the mural and found it “truthful.” See his included links to other, known works, much in the vein of the Deitch-feared MOCA mural.

The letter via Hyperallergic:

Dear Henry
thanks for your interest and sorry for the late reply

the situation is a bit complex, but i am used to it,
sometimes I encounter problems because of the strong content of my pieces
The only thing I can say is that I wasn’t expecting to be censored in “real-time” by MOCA

how do we came to this point?
the story is short:

1. I was invited by Deitch to paint the museum wall

2. I proposed him to work on my piece early this month because it was the only time I could have come to LA before the opening of “art in the streets”, next April.
I also asked to be payed for my work and to take an assistant from Italy to help me out.

3. Deitch said the time was ok and that the fee was approved,
I have not received any requests regarding preliminar sketches,
However I usually tend not to send sketches for approval, assuming that whoever invites me should know my work.
[ http://goo.gl/qnsGO ] [ http://goo.gl/WD4JD ]
[ http://goo.gl/0BQgi ] [ http://goo.gl/Fknwy ]

4. I flew to L.A. to paint the piece. In those days almost everyone, Deitch included, was in Miami for the art fair

5. I spent 6 days painting the piece. When Deitch came back from Miami I was still at the wall, drawing dollar bills.

6. He looked at the piece, and he found it offensive so he decided to erase it but he would let me finish it, at that point I had just finished sketching the dollar bills: the piece was already understandable but not completed. Knowing what was going to happen to my mural the following day, I didn’t feel motivated to spend more time on it. so i left the piece like that.

7. The day after Deitch invited me for dinner. We had a very gentle conversation in wich he asked me to paint another piece on the same wall, suggesting he would have preferred a piece that ‘invites people to come in the museum’.I told him that i will not to do that, for obvious reasons, and that probably I was not the artist best suited for this task.

8. the following day, early in the morning a L.A. blogger informed me that the piece was being erased by some workers. I went there to take some photos. Some people were already there documenting the event. The internet buzz was started before I realized the piece was being cancelled.

9. On Friday I was leaving LA, so I asked about the payment (i was there with an assistant, painting 10 hours a day for 6 days) and then things became unclear. Today I still don’t know if my work, after being erased, will be payed as agreed.

10. As soon as i got back home i found my inbox full of requests from journalists, asking for interviews
I also received an email from Deitch, in which he asked me to ‘sign’ a press release, explaining the motivation of the cancellation in order to calm down the censorship accusation.
I explained him that i will not sign that document because obviously I don’t agree with the cancellation of my piece.
Signing it would have meant technically ‘self-censorship.’
He told me his motivations. I understood his interpretation of the piece but that was his personal choice.

Now just to be clear:

My piece was not done to offend anyone, neither MOCA, Deitch, or any war veteran.
I was sincerely trying to do one of my best pieces and I would have been glad to spend a more days on that wall, touching up and finishing all the remaining details, to make it better.
I often paint strong subjects but always leaving
the interpretation open to the viewer and this may generate discussions.
People’s reaction is the most interesting thing for me.
To see this piece as ‘offensive’ was his personal interpretation,
not the only possible interpretation,
Deitch saw it like that and he took the decision to erase it,
without having received any official complain from anyone.
Now I am not angry with anyone, but this doesn’t mean i support the censorship of my piece
and I don’t want to take part in that decision: doing that would deny the whole idea of my work.

I can also say that during my short experience painting that piece I talked to many people, including some war veterans, who understood the piece in a completely opposite way. With my big surprise they liked the mural, founding it truthful.
This one, like many other different interpretations, appeared in several internet sites immediately after the cancellation.
I found this debate really interesting.

That said, I have no problem justifying my work, but now there is no more mural to speak about, and my personal position is just to step back and watch the reactions.

one final note:

As i said i am not angry, but I like to call things with their right name.
Now some people (mostly people related with L.A.MOCA or Jeffrey Deitch) claim this is not censorship but a “curatorial choice”.

The wikipedia definition of this word reads:
“Censorship is suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body”

this sounds familiar to me

that’s all
thank you


Also, Wooster Collective’s Marc Schiller finally broke his silence about the mural censorship. He posted the photo of iGreen’s “Ayatollah Deitch” street art and suggested we comb his Twitter for verbalization of his reaction. There, he wonders whether Banksy or Hirst would have gotten the same treatment from Deitch, whether other artists will pull out of MOCA’s show in light of the events (like those pulling out of the Smithsonian) and questions “the integrity of the show itself” for “playing it safe.” True words, days late and no where near Wooster Collective.