Thursday, January 20, 2011

Freedom of Expression, In Memoriam!

Thursday January 20, 2011
A brief report on the protest at the Biltmore today. 


Around 11:00 am LA Raw along with volunteers, activists and  community members arrived in front of the Biltmore Hotel carrying a coffin draped in a one dollar bill with a person holding a crucifix with a still image from David Wojnarowicz's "Fire In My Belly" video pasted on. Media from LA Times, New York Times and Associated Press along with other art blogs all showed up, at one point there were about forty protesters who walked back and forth in front of the Biltmore entrances on 5th/ Grand around to 5th/Olive for one hour prior to the begining of the talk. At noon as the talk was about to begin, some of the protesters went into the talk. 


A brief report of Wayne Clough's presentation at the Los Angeles Town Hall

At least 5 people from the demonstration also attended the Los Angeles Town Hall meeting at the Biltmore Hotel where Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian delivered the keynote address. Before reading from his prepared speech, Clough spent the first ten minutes of his 30 minute presentation focusing on the demonstration being held outside the hotel, and supporting the protesters right to demonstrate and their right to exercise free speech.  During the presentation he also praised the Smithsonian for producing Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Paraphrasing what he said, he was under pressure to close the entire exhibition, and believed that removing the David Wojnarowicz video was a small price to pay to keep the rest of this important exhibition open.

During the question and answer session—all of the questions had to be written out ahead of time and handed in—the vast majority of the questions focused on the ongoing censorship controversy.  The first question was whether the exhibition could travel to Los Angeles . Clough replied that it wasn’t intended to travel but certainly could.  At that point, someone from the audience yelled out, “Would it travel uncensored?” but the question was ignored.  Another person who attempted to ask a question from the audience was escorted out by security. 
In response to an additional question, he admitted that the controversy around Hide/Seek could have been handled better, and instead of having removed the piece, there could have been other ways for people to have expressed their objections and opinions.

Carol Wells, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics who was also inside states:

“In spite of Secretary Clough’s defense of his removal of the David Wojnarowicz video, and his admission that in retrospect the situation could have been handled differently, we are unwavering in our position that it is the fundamental obligation of museums and all public institutions to uphold the indispensable American values of free speech and free expression. The current controversy is not the first time the Smithsonian has censored an exhibition, but we are demanding that it is the last.”
Center for the Study of Political Graphics:

LA RAW Protests Museum Censorship during Wayne Clough's visit to L.A.

Thursday January, 20, 2011

Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Museum, recently removed David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video, “A Fire in My Belly,” from a critically acclaimed exhibition about gay-themed portraiture. LA RAW invited Artists and activists, along with supporters of free speech and free expression, to gather at the Biltmore where he was to speak at the Town Hall Los Angeles public issues series, to protest against the escalating art censorship from the Smithsonian to MoCA.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Practice Safe Art!

In response to the whitewashing of a mural nearly completed by Blu on an exterior wall of the MoCA by museum Director Jeffrey Deitch in December 2010, a "Deitch" brand condom was conceived. 
The mural which depicted a series of coffins draped by one dollar bills was removed by Deitch as a friendly gesture to the surrounding veteran community who may be offended and disrespected by such a powerful message speaking of the cost of war, the loss of human life and the reasons behind it. 

It was a stark perspective on war policy and the role of corporate tyranny which has little regard for the value of human life. Though the response to art placed in settings which can be viewed by the public is highly difficult to gage, the value of freedom of expression is a right which must be protected and fought for. If society loses it's ability to have meaningful dialogue, freedom of expression and the right to political dissent then we are in trouble. 

The "Deitch" condoms simply state "Don't Be Blu, Practice Safe Art" playing with a well known public health campaign which utilized the slogan "Practice Safe Sex" . In the case of the "Deitch" condom - the "product" speaks to the disease of censorship and intolerance of political dissent which must be handled by practicing safe art and hindering expression in order to not ruffle the feathers of the powers that be. 

On January 13, 2011 there was a panel discussion at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles titled "How Does Street Art Humanize Cities?" where the condoms were passed out to attendees as they were waiting to enter the discussion. The action of distributing the "Deitch" condoms in such a way at a public gathering was an integral part of the intent and of raising awareness and creating dialogue on an important issue which should be examined and not quietly tucked away. Artistic expression is the human voice and silencing it does not humanize a city. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Protest Escalating Art Censorship from the Smithsonian to MoCA

Photo: Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times
Join a Funeral Procession for Freedom of Expression!

Thursday, January 20, 2011 11:00 AM

Biltmore Hotel
506 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Museum, recently removed David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video, “A Fire in My Belly,” from a critically acclaimed exhibition about gay-themed portraiture. Clough will speak at the Biltmore on January 20th at noon as part of Town Hall Los Angeles public issues series. Artists and activists, along with supporters of free speech and free expression, will gather at 11 a.m. with props and posters to protest the escalation of art censorship.

Click here for event Info on Facebook


To read the Los Angeles Times article on Wayne Clough's visit to L.A. click here

The Problem With Taking "Art in the Streets" Into the Museum

The Blu mural controversy at MOCA is more than just another case of art world censorship. It is proof positive that street art exhibitions in the museum are inherently flawed and full of contradictions. Jeffrey Deitch's soon-to-be blockbuster show "Art in the Streets" and the whitewashed wall  mural made this point as clear as day.

Deitch, the new L.A. MOCA director, launched a pre-emptive strike on a mural by the Italian street artist Blu that he had commissioned him to paint on the side of the Geffen Contemporary building. Deitch objected to the content of the mural — a series of coffins draped with dollar bills instead of flags — because he felt that it might upset the museum's immediate neighbors, the Japanese-American community and the veteran community at the L.A. Veterans' Affairs Hospital. Deitch asked Blu to repaint the wall with another image, the artist refused, and an art controversy was born.

One might expect that artists in the show would stand firmly in Blu's corner and deride Deitch's rash decision, but the opposite seems to be the case. Passive criticism has been tampered by a parade of artists and cultural producers who have come to the defense of Deitch arguing that "Art in the Streets" is far too important to be derailed by a mural controversy. Shepard Fairey recently stated in the Los Angeles Times, "I'm not a fan of censorship but that is why I, and many of the other artists of the show, chose to engage in street art for its democracy and lack of bureaucracy."

Fairey added the following: "a museum is a different context with different concerns. It would be tragic for the break through of a street art/graffiti show at a respected institution like MOCA to be sabotaged by public outcry over perceived antagonism or insensitivity in Blu's mural." He concluded, "Street art or graffiti purists are welcome to pursue their art on the streets as they always have without censorship. I think that though MOCA wants to honor the cultural impact of the graffiti/street art movement, it only exists in its purist form in the streets from which it arose."

The artist has somehow forgotten that he now predominantly shows in bureaucratic museums. More so, he has miraculously come to the conclusion that the MOCA show will somehow help the overall cause of street art, instead of just his own art career — as if politicians and police departments from around the country will say, "Thank you MOCA, thank you for putting your stamp of approval on the art form. We now love graffiti. Kids, be free, grab your spray paint and cover the city. Maybe one of you will be the next Banksy and we can develop a tourist strategy around this wonderful art form that we once misunderstood."

Fairey is not alone in pronouncing that the show will improve street art's bad rap. Graffiti photographer and chronicler Henry Chalfant tells Hyperallergic: "MOCA couldn't have left the mural there as an affront to the community who considered it sacred ground, and who, in no way, were the deserving targets for the mural's powerful message. With street art, context is all-important. I would have loved to see the mural in front of the offices of Halliburton-KBR or on Wall Street, for America's war profiteers to see."

Chalfant goes on to conclude: "Losing the mural is sad enough and that misfortune will be compounded if the street art exhibition is canceled because the artists drop out to express their outrage. That would be self-defeating."

The misconception here is to think that the veterans were the "targets" of the anti-war mural. Rather, the target is the war. Does Chalfant, and Deitch for that matter, actually believe that all veterans and Japanese Americans are flag-waiving, pro-war patriots? That all Japanese Americans and all veterans think alike — i.e., that they are uncritical of war and easily offended by anti-war art?

If anything, the opposite is the case. Veterans are arguably the one segment of the population that is the most vocal about war, especially opposition to war. Organizations like Iraq Veterans Against the War are at the forefront of the anti-war movement. And stereotyping the Japanese American community is just as problematic today as was when FDR and others did it in the 1940s, a mindset that led to internment camps.

The issue, however, runs deeper. I would guess that Chalfant and Fairey offer up such a marginal criticism of the MOCA censorship issue because they do not want to upset the power brokers of the art world, in this case Deitch. Why play down the criticism? Because Deitch holds the keys to what many street-art stars want: an invitation to be part of "Art in the Streets."

This hat-in-hand goal runs counter to what street art was built upon: rebellion, subculture, transgressions, and railing against power, privilege, and private property. Today, many of the highly visible street artists have gone mainstream. Corporations hire street artists to paint billboard advertisements. Street artists have their own merchandise lines with mass produced t-shirts, hoodies, and skateboards that are churned out of the sweatshops of China and the Global South.

Shepard Fairey's images could be seen wheat-pasted all over Pittsburgh in 2009... to promote his museum show at the Warhol. In the U.K., workers employed to clean up graffiti by the Network Rail are instructed not to remove Banksy's stencils because it might negatively impact tourism. Lost in the new rules of the street-art career path and individual branding is dissent and social justice.

I would be shocked if "Art in the Streets" reaches beyond anything but a gala celebration of the genre. An ominous sign is the name of the show itself, which ideally should have been titled "Street Art in the Museum." That name alone might have suggested a more critical exhibition, one that would take a careful look at street art and its history and ask the tough questions. For starters, what happens when a subculture gets too cozy with the brokers of mass cultural and economic power, be it street artists showing in major museums or designing products for corporations? What happens when a genre becomes represented by two polar extremes — celebrated art-world stars and taggers who are viewed as criminals and vandals?

Look at the Banksy phenomenon. Bansky's work fetches prices of a half million dollars in auction houses, and when he — or one his team of assistants — illegally spray paints a stencil on a city wall, the action is celebrated and valued as art. Conversely, when a teenager from Chicago does the same type of work, he or she can expect a felony charge and public scorn. These types of questions are unlikely to be emphasized in a show that parades the who's who in street art from a handful of the genre's capitals.
Perhaps the curators will prove me wrong and provide some pleasant surprises. Blu started the show off on a high note with a thought-provoking work that invited the public to think more critically about the impact of war. However, the erasure of his mural is a bad omen, foreshadowing an exhibit that is likely to simply mirror American society today: divided, distracted, uncritical, star-struck, and lost in consumer culture — including street art consumer culture.

Nicolas Lampert is an artist and a writer who works collectively with the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative. A longer version of this essay appears on the Justseeds blog, along with many other writings on political art, street art, and printmaking. The views expressed here are the author's own.

(This article is reproduced with permission from

Monday, January 10, 2011

Uprising Radio discussion of Blu/MOCA censorship and the response protests

Monday, January 10, 2011
Thanks to Uprising Radio on KPFK in Los Angeles for hosting a discussion this morning about MOCA's censorship of Blu, and the recent visual response protest on the museum wall. Carol Wells of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics was in studio representing LA RAW, joining artists Man One and Vyal One in the discussion with host Sonali Kolhatkar. Here is the link to the show segment:
Uprising Radio Monday January 10, 2011

LA RAW Modus Operandi

January 10, 2011
LA RAW was formed by LA based artists & activists around 2 key principles: 1) standing up for freedom of expression and 2) voicing opposition against militarism and war. Our mode of operation generally involves providing a platform for members of the community to express themselves in a creative protest format. Because our format sometimes takes on an "open mic" atmosphere, participants have the freedom to express their own opinions at will. While we support our participants' right to express themselves, it is noted here for the record that the intention of organizers of LA RAW is the promotion of our key principles.

L.A. RAW's blog is the sole source of all official statements and announcements by the group. All inquiries should be directed to contactLARAW at gmail dot com

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Artists protest at MOCA

Monday January 3, 2011
A group of Los Angeles artists and war veterans got together in front of the whitewashed wall at MOCA to hold a street art performance to protest MOCA's censorship of Blu's anti-war mural. A video of the protest was viewed over 30,000 times within the first 48 hours. LA Times posted a report about the event which can be found here.

Downtown LA BLU MOCA Whitewash Protest // 01.03.2011 from jesse trott on Vimeo.

LA Anonymous!

Thursday December 16, 2010
Following the censorship of Blu's mural at MOCA's Geffen building, the first of a series of street art started appearing in Los Angeles.
"LA Anonymous" created Supreme {ARTS} Leader, a paste-up that appeared just a few blocks from MOCA. Images of the artwork spread widely through the internet when LA Times published it the next day.


In December 2010 Los Angeles witnessed a major act of censorship by the Museum of Contemporary Art. Not a single Los Angeles based organization even questioned this shameful act, let alone protest it or defend the freedom of expression.
A group of Los Angeles artists responded by organizing a very successful street campaign, reports of which have been covered by major news and internet media outlets internationally.
As more artists started coming together it seemed only natural to provide a platform for communication, and exchange of ideas.
LA RAW represents this growing collective. All official information, announcements and statements will be posted on this page.
BLU's mural at the L.A. MoCA's Geffen building
There have been many articles covering the aftermath of the whitewash by MoCA's director Jeffrey Deitch. The best article regarding this incident was written by Nicolas Lampert that was published on You can find many other write-ups by simply searching on Google.

WE have also set up a Facebook page for LA RAW for those of you who like to get the news of the future events through Facebook.