Art as a Headache, Art as Medicine

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Most of the time when we encounter artworks on the front page of a major newspaper, it is connected to a controversy or scandal about art being damaged, stolen, or sold for a ridiculous amount of money. Today’s front page of the LA Times features a mural with the image of actress Ava Gardner, a symbol of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Beau Stanton’s mural of Ava Gardner at the Robert F Kennedy Community School in Koreatown, at the former site of the Ambassador Hotel and Cocoanut Grove. Image courtesy Beau Stanton.

For more than two years, this mural, painted by young artist Beau Stanton, has graced the façade of the John F Kennedy Community School in LA’s Koreatown, the former site of the Ambassador Hotel and Cocoanut Grove nightclub. Now, because of protests by Korean groups, Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to paint over the mural. The artist who painted the mural is shocked, as is the National Coalition Against Censorship.

The reason for the controversy is that the background of the portrait, with red and blue rays emanating from behind Gardner’s profile, reminds Koreans of the imperial Japanese flag used during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910-1945. The use of rays in many of Stanton’s large-scale murals is his artistic trademark; any resemblance to the Japanese flag in this mural is unintentional, and to interpret this mural as an offense to Koreans is, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch.

Swastika on a Greek silver stater coin from Corinth, 6th century BCE. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

I do remember, when I was studying art many years ago as a student, I was shocked to see swastikas as an element of design in many ancient works of art. And, I have to admit – even today, when I look at the ancient Greek silver coin with a swastika on the back of it, it gives me pause.

Mosaic swastika in excavated Byzantine church in Shavei Tzion (Israel). Image courtesy Wikipedia.

And, the same goes for a mosaic found in a Byzantine church in Israel. It’s important to understand that the swastika was used as a religious icon in ancient cultures of Eurasia as a symbol of divinity and spirituality (Wikipedia). The fact that it was appropriated by Nazis as a symbol of fascism shouldn’t prevent us from understanding its positive meaning through prior centuries. In my opinion, the decision to paint over Blanton’s mural because of a remote resemblance to the Japanese imperial flag is a short- sighted and close-minded decision by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Edward’s “Art Gypsies” at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, viewing Beverly Pepper’s work. Photo by Edward Goldman.

Now, let’s switch to some uplifting and positive art news. A recent article on talks about the Montreal Museum of Fine Art that has launched a year-long pilot program of doctor-prescribed museum visits. “A trip to a museum has been shown to help people with anything from shortness of breath to dementia” (Artsy). The program encourages doctors to prescribe up to 50 visits to their patients, with each prescription covering admission to the Montreal Museum for two adults and two children.

Edward’s “Art Gypsies” at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, with artist Kim Dingle during a walk-through of her exhibition. Photo by Edward Goldman.

This program definitely hits a note with me, and hopefully with you as well. Do you remember all those wonderful moments in museums and galleries, standing in front of artworks that amaze, energize, and challenge you? I particularly like the moments when my friends, whom I take with me to see art around town, are not just politely looking at art, but closely examining the works as close as they can get, almost “touching” it with their eyes. That’s the right way to use art as medicine – medicine for your body and mind.

Edward’s “Art Gypsies” at Blum & Poe Los Angeles, viewing work by Lynda Benglis. Photo by Edward Goldman.



Kathleen Yore