The Curious Case of Beau Stanton's Mural Removal in Los Angeles, and what it Means for Public Art
In what is becoming a major news story in the Los Angeles area, muralist and painter Beau Stanton recently was told by the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) that they were going to bow to calls of censorship over a mural he painted at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in Koreatown. The reason? The Ava Gardner mural was to be painted over because, according to the LA Times, "local Korean activists say the painting’s background reminds them of the Japanese imperial battle flag, which they liken to a swastika. Or as LA Times art critic Christopher Knight noted, Chan Yong “Jake” Jeong, president of the Wilshire Community Coalition, said the mural “depicts the Rising Sun Flag of the Japanese Imperialism from World War II.”
Well, there was no ambiguity there in his words, was there? And that is why we chose to write about this subject today. We have worked with Beau Stanton over the years on numerous projects, even featured him in our print edition. Of course, that doesn't mean we give 100% support to every artist we have featured, but in this case, we feel the LAUSD and the Wilshire Community Coalition are wrong on the issue, and that the artist in no way is making mention of Imperial symbolism. The flag that the Coalition is falsely saying is directly in the piece, is not. In the terse proclamation that Stanton was "depicting the Rising Sun Flag," the Coalition is wrongly accusing the artist and rather, misreading and misappropriating his intention. The mural of Ava Gardner depicts, again, in the words of Knight, "symbols refer(ing) to decorations in the Cocoanut Grove, the long-gone nightclub at the old Ambassador Hotel, now the site of RFK Schools."
Obviously, racist and misogynist public art HAS to go. But absolute misreading and accusations that an artist is being racist when the intention of the mural was something benign and historically accurate to Stanton's love of Art Deco and early 20th Century American design. When the Wilshire Community Coalition’s letter implies that the artist "meant to terrorize its neighborhood, " it is beyond harmful to the artist.
Conversation about public art, especially in this new era of New Big Muralism for New Big Muralism sake, is very important. There have been many times when I have wandered the streets during a mural festival, or even in my own city and wondered if the neighborhood loves a 3-storey mural of a bare-chested woman with a "sexy" gaze and some random pop-culture icons around her head. There is a lot of that. Then I think of the beautiful Conor Harrington mural in downtown Miami that, Juxtapoz and Mana Contemporary, commissioned in 2017, that indeed brought up enough discussion about what a mural means to a community that Conor made a book on it. These coversations are healthy. We need more of this EVERYWHERE.
We don't have a problem with discussions on whethere a mural is aesthetically pleasing or not. If the community just plainly didn't like the mural, thought Ava Gardner was an overrated actress and wanted something new, that is one thing. But to call an artist racist and to blame him for "terrorizing" a community is way too far-fetched, even for this magazine. Beau Stanton meeting with the school and officials this weekend is a great start, but the censorship and demand that Beau "put an explanation or disclaimer on his other works of art," is something we hope doesn't become a trend, either.
What do you think?
Photo courtesy of the LA Times.