Creating art sends a message. Destroying art also sends a message. One wonders what message was intended by the destruction of an anti-war-for-profit mural at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A.
Hiding behind "sensitivity" for veterans, MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch's order to destroy artist Blu's work on the wall of the Geffen Contemporary Building conveyed a deep ignorance about the veterans community in the United States, which includes a great many people who strongly oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"'This is 100% about my effort to be a good, responsible, respectful neighbor in this historic community,' Deitch said. 'Out of respect for someone who is suffering from lung cancer, you don't sit in front of them and start chain smoking.'"
This is a strange metaphor because it implies that the dissent conveyed through art is killing people, rather than the war. It implies that a strong public statement of the opposition to wars for profit hurts veterans. But, if Deitch stopped and thought about it, he'd realize that the mural wasn't a cigarette smoked in the face of the lung cancer victim, but rather the surgeon general's warning on the side of cigarette pack.
Much of the anti-war movement is led by veterans, who've seen firsthand that these wars aren't making us safer and aren't worth the cost. If Deitch talked to more veterans rather than making blanket assumptions about their viewpoints, he might be surprised to find that many, many veterans stridently oppose the wars being fought by the U.S. at present. For example, the video Rethink Afghanistan published on Veterans Day featured veterans denouncing the war in Afghanistan as an unjust war.
Deitch must also not be familiar with Brigadier General Smedley Butler, the most decorated soldier in our nation's history, and his views about war which perfectly match the implications of Blu's mural:
"War is a racket. It always has been. it is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious... It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives."
Mission & Vision Statement
MOCA's mission is to be the defining museum of contemporary art. MOCA engages artists and audiences through an ambitious program of exhibitions, collection, education, and publication. MOCA identifies and supports the most significant and challenging art of its time, places it in historical context, and links the range of the visual arts to contemporary culture. MOCA provides leadership by actively fostering and presenting new work, emerging media, and original scholarship.
Nothing in these statements has anything to do with avoiding making people uncomfortable. If MOCA were honestly pursuing their goal of identifying and supporting the most significant and challenging art of its time, they would be proudly featuring Blu's mural as a cultural gem rather than treating it like that embarrassing relative who just can't behave at family reunions.
Here's an interesting thought experiment: imagine if Blu had painted a mural celebrating, rather than dissenting from, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What if the mural had depicted the war in Afghanistan as a conflict that served American interests, where our team, including our allies in Kabul, were the Good Guys and our adversaries the Bad Guys. In other words, if Blu had lied through his art, rather than using it to tell the truth, would Deitch have painted over it? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Creating art conveys a message. Destroying it also sends a message.
At some point we're going to have to show our veterans some true respect rather than assuming they're thin-skinned war-mongers who would be offended by opposition to war. A great many veterans are deeply committed to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What message does MOCA send by frantically trying to obscure such a powerful symbol of their convictions?
Please take a moment to support Blu's work and to share your displeasure with Deitch's actions by sending an email to MOCA.