Drama from Beverly Boulevard spilled onto the Internet on Sunday when CHOD, a street artist who has been working locally for about two years, remixed a painting created by Annie Preece and posted it on the building that once housed the Regency Fairfax Cinemas. Preece, herself a street artist who also shows at galleries, was not amused. She reclaimed the now-collaborative effort from in front of the shuttered theater and is selling it, with proceeds going to a local charity for domestic abuse victims.
It's a strange story, where street art and Internet beefs meet, one filled with enough weird coincidences and hearsay to make it sound like a convoluted television plot or art world prank.
CHOD and Preece don't know each other, but in the past their work has appeared on the same spot, that old theater at 7907 Beverly Blvd., a popular spot for street art. CHOD had been wanting to do a project that examined “value” in the art world. Specifically, he wanted to look at this in the context of street art. How does the value of one's work change when the artist moves from the street to the gallery and then back to the street?
Let's start at the beginning.
CHOD's video of what took place
A few weeks ago, CHOD bought Preece's painting, called Melting Head, at Lab Art Gallery on La Brea. Preece describes it as one of the “droopy faces” that have become a part of her work. It's primarily a black-and-white image marked by a smattering of pink paint and a single blue eye.
CHOD plopped down $2500 cash for the painting. Then he took to it with a stencil, applying the words, “None of this is real.” Painting a phrase on top of an image isn't that unusual. However, this differs from the work of an artist like Wayne White in that CHOD paid top dollar for a canvas from someone who works in the same scene he does. That's part of his point.
“None of this is real” is one of CHOD's catch phrases, and it's crucial to the message in his work. CHOD explores human-made constructs, like government, economics and religion. “These are all things that we created that are not real,” he says by phone.
On Saturday night, CHOD hung the art mash-up on Beverly Boulevard, in a spot where he knew that graffiti is quickly covered. He added a gallery-style tag. At the bottom of the small sign, in the place that would normally name a price, he gave his. CHOD was offering the work for free.
The artist captured this process on video and, before Sunday's sunrise, the clip was online. Later that morning, he cruised down the street to see if the piece was still there.
“My assumption was that eventually all of that would be painted over brown, reducing the total value of this piece, this object, to literally zero,” he says.
But that's not what happened. Sometime around 11 a.m., CHOD drove past the old movie theater and the painting was in the same spot. An hour and a half later, he drove past it again. This time, the piece had vanished.
At around the same time that CHOD was making trips to Beverly Blvd., Preece was in the car with her boyfriend. Someone sent CHOD's video to her phone. “I didn't really know how to take it,” she tells L.A. Weekly. Preece talked to a few friends. The consensus was that this was a diss.
CHOD maintains that his project wasn't a slight against Preece. He says that he picked her because he knew she wrote on the same wall where he often posted work. Also, he knew that she had pieces for sale at Lab Art Gallery.
That's not how Preece sees the situation. She contends that if CHOD wanted to collaborate, he could have contacted her. Preece saw the move as a “personal attack” on her work. “I didn't know if that was his intention, but that's how I took it,” she adds.
Preece happened to be in the neighborhood where the art was hanging. “Sure as shit, the painting is still there, glued to the wall with the little placard,” Preece recalls. She took the piece off the wall, documenting it on Instagram, and brought it home with her.
Then there was the Facebook rant where Preece described CHOD in colorful language. The screen shots of that ended up on street art blog Melrose & Fairfax, who broke the story, alongside CHOD's response to her reaction. The Internet audience divided up into Team Preece and Team CHOD. Comments were heated. Somewhere in this whole mess of comment threads, art happened. It happened because people were talking.
The conversation wasn't quite what CHOD expected. In fact, he says that it's “100 times more interesting” than how he thought this might all unfold.
Value became tied to ownership. Preece created the original work, but she lost ownership when CHOD bought the painting from the gallery. “The piece was now his,” Preece says. “He could light it on fire, smash it over somebody's head.”
But what CHOD chose to do was add his own contribution to the work and change the price tag from $2500 to $0, leading Preece to take back ownership of the work when she pulled it down from the wall.
“The highest value on this object is placed on it by the original artist,” CHOD states. “It's not even a monetary value. She's now selling it for an amount that she'll never see.”
There's an unexpected silver lining for Preece too. “When all is said and done, it turned out to be a good thing,” she says. “I got paid for the original painting. I got my own painting back. I get to raise money for this charity now.”