Publicly Funded Art is causing a stir now in Los Angeles, where a mural citing (in part) the Pledge of Allegiance has drawn fire from a neighborhood group. The Little Tokyo Community Development Advisory Committee complained that placing a mural featuring the pledge above LA’s Little Tokyo was, at the very least, insensitive to the feelings of Japanese-Americans who suffered forced detention and were asked to take loyalty oaths during World War II. Kats Kunitsugu, of the committee, told the LA Times that “I thought it was quite a slap in the face.” Another member of the neighborhood group, Alan Furuta, said that the mural’s citing of the pledge and its general similarity to the American flag would “bring up old wounds and feelings.”
The artwork is all text and poses questions such as “WHO IS BOUGHT AND SOLD? WHO IS BEYOND THE LAW? WHO IS FREE TO CHOOSE? WHO FOLLOWS ORDERS?” Originally, the pledge was to be in the center of the mural, prominently in all caps. It is now in smaller letters running along the top and bottom of the mural’s rectangle, while the questions are in larger type and in the center.
LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), so far from ramming the mural down Little Tokyo’s throat, immediately opened up discussion between the artist (Barbara Kruger) and those angry with the proposal, and came to the compromise. Kruger is no Richard Serra: she has stated that she is willing to make further changes, if necessary.
The mural was funded in part by the NEA and the California Arts Council, which is supported by NEA as well as state tax money.
What comes immediately to mind are the obvious objections that a running series of essentially nonsense questions is not art, and that my federal tax dollars, levied on earnings made in Illinois, should not be decorating downtown Los Angeles. But if I am to live in a world with federally funded art, then in this case I must grant that MOCA did the right thing in respecting the feelings of the community group. It is very distressing, however, that basic patriotic symbols of America like the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance are deemed offensive by at least some of California’s Japanese-Americans. And after witnessing the enormous stink that it took to get rid of the Serra sculpture in New York, is it only the cynic in me that makes me ask if MOCA—and the artist—would have been so accommodating had the complaint not come from a minority group that is still, 44 years later, furious with its country? (KD)