Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Siqueiros Americá Tropical Project

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El Pueblo Historic Monument

Street art is having something of a moment right now in Los Angeles.  MOCA’s Art in the Streets show is totally loved and totally hated. And somehow MOCA has managed to underplay the censorship issues that arose months ago when the graffiti artist Blu’s mural was whitewashed from the Geffen Contemporary’s north wall.  I’ve been told Blu wanted to show Deitch sketches for the mural, but Deitch couldn’t (wouldn’t?) because he was too busy at Basel in Miami…

Caught in the act.

The whitewashed wall has since been painted over by a group of artists.  The new mural, called Birds of a Feather, is sprawling and beautiful.  But how long with this new mural stay up?  Will it be whitewashed when the show is over? Will it stay up after the show as a memento; for how long? Even if the mural is painted over, it will still always be there, under just a layer of paint, just like Blu’s mural is now.  Those paint layers can always be removed in the future.

Little over a mile away from the Geffen Contemporary, layers of paint have been removed from the second story of Los Angeles’s Italian Hall (part of El Pueblo Historic Monument) to reveal a mural that was censored almost eighty years ago.  The Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros painted the large mural Americá Tropical in 1932.  It was whitewashed within months of its completion (Blu’s mural had been finished for a few hours before it was whitewashed).  Since 1994, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has been working to conserve Siqueiros’s controversial fresco mural.

An overly-saturated Americá Tropical.

The initial announcement of GCI’s work at the site (and the donation of large amounts of money for the project) was made with a coinciding announcement that the mural would be on view within a year or two.  That was 16 years ago.  The GCI subsequently became angry with the City of Los Angeles for not upholding their end of the arrangement: to raise funds for a viewing platform and interpretive center for the mural.  The GCI issued an ultimatum to the City of Los Angeles: if it failed to raise their portion of the funding, the GCI would pull out of the project.  The deadline for that ultimatum passed on July 1, 2005.

Finally, on September 8 of last year, ground broke on the project for the viewing platform and interpretive center, designed by Pugh + Scarpa, which is slated to be finished next year.  With the groundbreaking came the news of a new private-public investment.  The funding of the project will come from an $8.95 million investment.  $5 million of that amount comes directly from the City of Los Angeles (who owns and will operate the site). The additional $3.95 million comes from a grant from the GCI.

Rendering of the Pugh + Scarpa designed viewing platform.

This private-public investment fits into the missions of both organizations.  For the GCI it is the completion of a long-term conservation project.  It is also a way for the GCI to exhibit their efforts, and a way for them to show their work locally in Los Angeles.  For the City of Los Angeles the completion of this project (and making this one-of-a-kind artwork open to the public) also fits.  Local press and the Latino community of Los Angeles have been pressuring the City to uphold their end of the project for years (16 years).

The colors won’t be as bright as they once were, but that doesn’t matter.

While the Siqueiros mural project is coming to a successful end, it makes me wonder about the murals at MOCA.  Will we have to wait 80 years to see Blu’s mural again?  In 80 years might the GCI be doing conservation on the Geffen Contemporary’s wall?  Would they decide to conserve Birds of a Feather, or Blu’s censored mural? Would either of them be conserved?—It is “street art” after all.

H.I.

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