In light of the current spate of criticisms hurled at MOCA, a startling censorship incident at the museum in May brings up a new series of questions about one of the museum’s corporate sponsors. During the museum’s Bring Your Own Beamer (B.Y.O.B.) event, artist Chris Silva was told to remove his projection because it featured a Peugeot race car, a competitor to Mercedes-Benz, one of the event’s sponsors. Whoops. But now, a few months later, it appears that everything is hunky-dory between Silva and Mercedes-Benz—and Silva might get an exhibition out of it.
Here’s what went down in May: during a B.Y.O.B screening held in conjunction with Transmission L.A., an exhibition curated by Beastie Boy Mike D., Silva was irked to see that part of his projection, showing a Peugeot sports car, had been blocked. He went up to the projector and removed a postcard that had been stuck there. That set off some fury, and Felipe Lima, one of Transmission’s organizers, and two other people, one of them blinged out with a gold chain emblazoned with a Mercedes-Benz logo, came by to let Silva know that he needed to take down his work.
In an interview with HuffPo’s Mat Gleason, Silva recounted that he was told to immediately “take down what I was showing.” Silva needed to remove the piece “because someone from Mercedes corporate was ‘pissed’ about it,” he told Gleason. When he asked to talk to the company about the piece, he was advised not to because they were too upset to talk. Ouch. It’s pretty strange that Mercedes concluded a cartoony model of a racecar could interfere with their marketing, but maybe any other car is too much car for the sponsor.
Now, a few months later, it seems Silva’s grievances have been remedied. Following coverage on the Huffington Post and ArtINFO, Mercedes-Benz made a public apology, but they deny that any Mercedes-Benz staff told Silva to remove his work. It was someone else, they swear! And Silva, who has used Mercedes-Benz imagery in previous work, has been told by the automobile company that they would like “to turn this into a success story through support of [his] work.” MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch weighed in with an email apology to Silva as well.
Congrats to Silva and all, but this still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We don’t know who confronted Silva at MOCA, but it’s still a bit dicey for Mercedes, after being called out, to propose something that sounds like what—an apology show? Not cool, even if everyone ends up getting a little publicity out of it.