This study investigates anti-gentrification activism in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles through focusing on the concept of ‘artwashing’. This activism has raised controversy due to aggressive attacks on art galleries. First, I analyze the relationship between art galleries and artwashing, and then discuss the effects, limits and artistic, political and social implications of Boyle Heights’s activism.
The attacks on galleries in Boyle Heights imply public antagonism toward ‘artwashing’—the disguising of negative aspects of gentrification associated with race and class through positive images of art. By attacking galleries rather than the fundamental political and economic structure, this activism failed to prevent gentrification. However, it provoked diverse debates surrounding gentrification, art, the city, and society by gaining media and academic attention with its antagonistic strategies. From the perspective of city planning, it revealed the exclusiveness of official urban development and demanded policy changes that consider the housing rights of minorities. Led by artists including Ultra-red, this act of resistance suggested an experimental form of anti-gentrification art activism that takes political practices as an art. Fighting for the community’s housing rights as well as housing justice, this resistance also showed the ‘art of resistance’ and the role of artists in ‘place guarding’. This case has implications for critical reflections concerning art’s social role by disclosing the problematic collaboration between art and gentrification.