My Own Private Guantanamo

Pranks, Power and Pop Culture


Exit through the MOCA gift shop, just past the Nike® skate ramp

April 18, 2011

“…if you choose to do art paid for by an institution, you have to play nice.”

This line, offered in support of MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch nicely summarizes why the MOCA’s new “landmark” exhibition of street art has a Nike-sponsored skate ramp, but no anti-war mural.

It also sums up a bit of received wisdom (call it “career advice”) that the LA Weekly seems all too comfortable regurgitating. If you want to read about Deitch’s street cred, his “handmade suits” and his famous friends, then, by all means, click through to the LA Weekly’s cover story on Art in the Streets.

But you won’t find any serious questions raised about Deitch’s censorship of Blu’s mural. Deitch still claims it was all about respecting the neighbors– in this case, a veteran’s building. (He famously compared the unfinished mural depicting coffins draped in dollar signs, to chain smoking in front of a person suffering from lung cancer.)

I know it seems like I’m picking on the Weekly lately, but the underlying tone of this article is more insulting to the spirit of street art, than anything Mr. Brainwash ever splashed onto a canvass.

The author allows Deitch to assert that Blu, by creating a piece of controversial political art was “undermining the whole project.” The artist, he claims was “not interested in the unspoken rules of participating in a group art exhibition.” Unspoken rules? Sounds like the beating heart of the street art movement!

Shorter Deitch: to have a successful art career, you must be a team player. Careerism trumps free expression. A good artist knows how to play ball.

Unfortunately, the LA Weekly was unable to find anyone critical of this stance. And sadly, Blu was unavailable for comment. Fortunately, we have this statement from his blog:

a very interesting debate is happening on internet
and, wonders of rhetoric, the word “censorship” magically disappears
now you can call it a “curatorial choice”
I almost totally agree with this interpretation
it is, in fact, a CURATORIAL CHOICE that involves the CENSORSHIP of a mural.

Does this mean I am boycotting Art in the Streets? Hell no. There’s a lot of work I want to see, and perhaps some stickering to be done. But I think the absence of Blu’s mural provides an important context for the show. Ironically, Deitch’s hasty act of censorship, and the careerist bromides he uses to justify it, reminds us why art that doesn’t play by “unspoken rules” can be so powerful, and so threatening. The ironies of this exhibition are certainly not lost on the LAPD.



  • hboo

    i want a sticker.

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