Washed white

The Italian street artist called Blu and the Mexican muralist Siqueiros share a distinction, although some 80 years apart. Both have had their Los Angeles murals whitewashed for political reasons.

Siqueiros was a passionately committed Stalinist who painted his revolutionary beliefs into his murals. Blu is a deliberately anonymous graffitist with a wonderfully anarchic imagination.

Both Blu and Siqueiros used their walls to paint oversize judgments - unambiguous and utterly unironic - of the United States. Siqueiros painted a Native American crucified beneath an eagle symbolic of American power. The mural briefly loomed over Olvera Street's theme park version of Mexican Los Angeles. Blu painted coffins draped with dollar bills on the side of a former bus garage in Little Tokyo. The wall adjoins a Japanese-American war memorial and, some blocks further north, a Veterans Affairs ambulatory care center.

Christine Sterling, the founder of Olvera Street, had the Siqueiros mural partially whitewashed shortly after it was finished in late 1932. It was completely covered some months later. Museum of Contemporary Art Director Jeffrey Deitch had Blu's wall painting covered in white paint almost before anyone had seen it.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Deitch "intended to confer with Blu on his plan for the wall before the artist began painting. The two were unable to meet, he said, when Blu's travel plans changed and Deitch left for an art fair in Miami. He said Blu began the mural while he was out of town."

The Siqueiros mural was mostly forgotten until the late 1960s, when flaking paint revealed the colors beneath. It's under intensive conservation now by the Getty Museum (and has been for several years), but the mural always will be a shadowy memory of what it briefly had been, its politics permanently muted by the effects of weathering and Siqueiros' choice of materials. The fate of Blue's wall painting parallels the story of his other graffiti, which have mostly been painted over or scrubbed away by diligent municipal workers.

Not all angry shouts are inevitably strangled for reasons of decorum. Some are whitewashed out.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user the City Project. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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