Trying to Undo the Whitewashing
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Last week's program American Museums: All Talk, No Walk addressed the issue of the latest artistic censorship, when two leading American museums were intimidated by controversy caused by art they put on display. I didn't expect to do a follow up to this program, but so many of you placed comments on the Art Talk page of the KCRW website – and did it with such eloquence and conviction – that I decided, with your help, to try to undo the whitewashing done by MOCA and the Smithsonian.
But before reading your comments let me share with you some recent developments on the museum front. In New York, at the New Museum through January 23, the public is invited to see the controversial 13-minute silent film A Fire in My Belly, A Work in Progress (1986-87) by David Wojnarowicz. As a result visitors can judge for themselves whether the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. was right to withdraw this video from the current exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. A number of other museums and cultural institutions around the country, as a sign of protest, have put Wojnarowicz's video on display, as well. So if you want to see this "dangerous" video in your area go to the Art Talk page on the KCRW website and click on the link in this very sentence. Here in Los Angeles this video could be seen last week at the Hammer Museum and is still on view downtown at REDCat through December 31.
Like many of you I had never heard about the Italian street artist, known as BLU – that's until last week - when his huge outdoor mural at MOCA was ordered to be whitewashed. Wanting to know more about the artist I visited his website and encourage you to do the same so you can see his censored artwork that was destroyed.
And while we are on the subject of censorship, here are some of your comments:
-- "I agree wholeheartedly that we ought to grow up. We cry out against war into our pillows but smile politely in front of others who "might" be offended. Shame on MOCA."
-- "It is difficult to believe that no one on the curatorial staff reviewed the subject content of the mural before allowing the artist to spend so many hours creating the masterful work."
-- "Jeffrey [Deitch] says, "He [the artist] worked in Isolation." Come now, that has to be BS. At least ONE curator must have seen the concept."
-- "As an Arts Commissioner in Santa Barbara County, and as chair of the County Art in Public Places committee, we wrestle with concerns for what might be "appropriate" for public spaces vs. censoring artistic freedom. I'm not sure we always succeed, but to remove something before any public comment has occurred, much less necessarily removing it at all despite objections, seems to be a totally knee-jerk reaction."
-- "Jeffrey Deitch, Dictator of MOCA, who was approved by the Board of Trustees, has every right to do what he wants at that museum downtown. However, I must take exception to his idea of calling that museum an 'artist's' museum."
-- "Hey, war costs lots of money and lots of lives. Isn't that an appropriate subject for street art?"
-- "Thank you for your sanity! It seems that our freedom of speech does not extend to protesting government policies..."
"Mostly I think that the whole concept is flawed. You don't COMMISSION street art. Once you decide to 'domesticate' street art by putting it in a museum it is not street art anymore."
To see images discussed in Art Talk, go to KCRW.com/ArtTalk.
Banner image: Poster Art made in response to MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch's decision to censor a mural by the Italian artist Blu. Photo courtesy iGreen/Los Angeles Times