The familiar “he said/ she said” binary so beloved of the media has shaped the controversy over LA MOCA’s whitewashing of a political mural as an opposition between those who define it as censorship and those who define it as sensitivity. Here is the LA Times:
“Censorship,” some cry, referring to Deitch’s removal of Blu’s antiwar mural on the north wall of the Geffen. Others say it’s sensitivity, not censorship, as Deitch was concerned that the mural — which pictured coffins covered in dollar bills — would be offensive to some in the neighborhood, as there’s a Veterans Affairs hospital and a war memorial to Japanese-American soldiers in close proximity to the museum.
“Crying” censorship (really – those crybaby free speech fanatics!) and claiming sensitivity, however, are NOT polarized assertions. Censorship is the suppression of speech or ideas considered disagreeable, offensive or otherwise objectionable. People censor for various reasons – and being “sensitive” to the feelings of others is often one of those reasons.
Being a private institution LA MOCA can legally censor as mush as it wants, but, please, let’s call Jeffrey Deitch’s action what it is: censorship. Where disagreement appears is when we begin discussing Deitch’s reasons for covering the piece: We may sympathize with his motivations or we may disagree that the possibility that a political mural may offend someone should be reason to whitewash it.
If being sensitive to the values and feeling of others becomes a valid determinant of what art can be put on display, sex, nudity, as well as any comment on religion or political topics will be out. As profit making seems to be the one indisputable positive goal in this country, our public spaces will be then fully dedicated to it (as long as it doesn’t become too artsy and controversial, of course) – why think about war profiteering when you can just go and buy something cool!