01/14/2011 03:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Condoms, Lasers, and Deitch: Protest Group L.A. Raw on Its Beef With MOCA

In the short year that Jeffrey Deitch has been leading Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art he has certainly succeeded in making his institution the center of attention, though perhaps not the kind he intended. Lately, the former gallerist's populist efforts -- including plans to exhibit broad-appeal talents like Julian Schnabel and the Rodarte sisters -- have been shadowed by controversy over his fateful decision to repress an anti-war mural by street artist Blu, which Deitch commissioned for the exterior of the museum's Geffen Contemporary building in December and then had erased in light of its subject matter.

Now, ARTINFO has learned, an artist collective has come together specifically in response to Deitch's actions, dedicating itself to coordinating anti-censorship art protests. Known as L.A. Raw, the group -- which maintains a blog about its actions -- was behind the "laser graffiti" protest in which activists projected images of Blu's mural onto its whitewashed former site. Some members of the group apparently operate under code names. Last night, they struck again.

At a panel at the Fowler Museum, "Zócalo at the Fowler: How Does Street Art Humanize Cities?", moderated by L.A. Times art writer Jori Finkel and featuring Aaron Rose, a co-curator of MOCA's forthcoming "Art in the Streets" exhibition, L.A. Raw passed out Deitch-themed condoms to attendees. The prophylactics bore the slogan "Don't Be Blu, Deitch, Practice Safe Art."


The above condoms were given out by protestors of MOCA's erasure of Italian street artist Blu's anti-war mural / Courtesy L.A. Raw

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The collective also distributed fliers for another upcoming action, a "Funeral Procession for Freedom of Expression" that will take place on January 20th at the Biltmore Hotel, where Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough will be making an appearance. The artistic protest will take on "the escalation of art censorship," opposing both the suppression of Blu's anti-war mural and the Smithsonian's removal of a David Wojnarowicz video from the National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" show under right-wing pressure. According to a member of L.A. Raw, Deitch was at the Fowler panel, and was "personally handed a protest flier for the 20th."

ARTINFO deputy editor Ben Davis interviewed the new protest-art group last night via email following their demonstration at the Fowler.

What is L.A. RAW? Your Web site says that you represent a "growing collective." Who's involved?

L.A. Raw is a group that organically came together following the whitewashing of Blu's mural at MOCA in December 2010. There are a few key organizers who consist of artists and activists in Los Angeles. L.A. Raw serves as an umbrella group for artists who wish to address their concern over the censorship of Blu's anti-war mural.

Why did you decide to found this group?

This group was founded in order to take action and speak out against censorship and for freedom of expression, in support of Blu, with an anti-war stance. L.A. Raw is here to take various actions as a form of protest (such as the pasting of the "Supreme 'Arts' Leader" by L.A. Anonymous, the "laser graffiti" action at the MOCA, and the action of passing out condoms at the Fowler museum) while providing a platform for exchanging information and addressing the media, as well as providing organizational support to those who may take actions in line with L.A. Raw's mission statement. L.A. Raw wishes to keep encouraging discourse and dialogue regarding the issues mentioned above.

Tell me about the actions you've done so far, the "laser graffiti" piece and the demonstration today at the Jori Finkel panel? How did they come together, and what were they all about?

L.A. Raw carries out actions that are conceived through a combination of collective exchange of ideas, dialogue, or personal inspiration. Regardless of the action, they are all efforts that take place through collective support. The laser graffiti piece was organized with the involvement of a group, though the concept was initiated by John Carr. It was an effort and action that encompassed people including veterans, artists, organizers, and outreach to friends in the community, such as computer programmers and videographers who came together because of being concerned about the erasure of Blu's poignant mural depicting the cost of war, using the wall space where the original mural was whitewashed as an open canvas to voice a public response.

The action at the Fowler Museum consisted of passing out labeled "Deitch" condoms which said "Don't be Blu, Practice Safe Art" to people prior to them entering a panel discussion titled "How Does Street Art Humanize Cities?" The use of the condom as a product that speaks of how the artwork of an artist that challenges the current state of affairs is handled, and how the message of an artwork can be watered down in order to be deemed appropriate for the public by various institutions and/or individuals. The purpose of this action was to provoke a dialogue for those attending the panel, keeping the issue from being safely tucked away without addressing the dangers of impeding freedom of expression. This action was carried out by a member of L.A. Raw who goes by the name "O." Regardless, all actions are not done in a bubble and receive full support and coordination by L.A. Raw as a whole.

Are you specifically focused on Deitch and MOCA? Or are you going to be involved in other actions, like the protests of G. Wayne Clough when he comes to L.A. on the 20th? What's next?

Although L.A. Raw was initially provoked into action following the whitewashing of Blu's mural at MOCA, as artists, activists, and others committed to free expression, we oppose any art censorship and therefore are involved in organizing the upcoming protest at the Biltmore.

Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian, recently removed David Wojnarowicz's 1986 video, "A Fire in My Belly," from a critically acclaimed exhibition about gay-themed portraiture at the Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. When Clough addresses the "Town Hall Los Angeles" public issues series on Thursday, January 20, L.A. Raw will protest that censorship as well. We will gather at 11 a.m. in front of the Biltmore Hotel. Through props and posters, L.A. Raw will link the censorship at the Smithsonian with the censorship at MOCA. L.A. Raw's mission strongly supports freedom of expression and we are committed to speaking out against any censorship of the arts.

What's your pitch to get people involved?

There is no pitch needed. All people who value freedom of expression and the right to have a voice of political dissent in regards to war, which effects humanity as a whole, are encouraged to get involved and to actively participate in activities that peacefully demonstrate the importance of standing up to actions that jeopardize these vital rights. We encourage and invite people to keep informed through our blog, which updates news and information.

-Ben Davis,

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