Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shepard Fairey

From my review of Shepard Fairey “Supply and Demand” at Boston’s ICA:
Shepard Fairey and his show "Supply and Demand" arrive at the Institute of Contemporary Art like a guerrilla general emerging from the jungle after his forces have taken the capital. There's still some sniping going on (the Associated Press says the Los Angeles street artist's ubiquitous Obama "Hope" poster infringes on copyright because the image is too closely based on an AP photo, and Globe editorial cartoonist Dan Wasserman calls him a "graphic pickpocket"), but it's clear who's won the battle.

Property owners across the area have invited him — a guy arrested 15 times (including this weekend's Boston bust) for sticking stuff where people didn't want it — to poster their walls. Fairey's banner — his trademark Andre the Giant icon — is pasted atop the ICA façade. And, as you've likely heard, Obama won.

The ICA bills "Supply and Demand" as Fairey's first museum survey, and perhaps the first major museum exhibit of a street artist. The show — some 250 works spanning 20 years — is pretty awesome. It doesn't hurt that Obama is in the White House; all Fairey's prints hating on the Bush administration would be a lot pricklier — and make you feel like shit — if things had gone the other way. But time is on Fairey's side. It's probably the hottest show in the nation right now.
Read the rest here.

Shepard Fairey “Supply and Demand,” ICA, 100 Northern Ave., Boston, Feb. 6 to Aug. 16, 2009.

Shepard Fairey posters Cambridge.

Pictured from top to bottom: Shepard Fairey in front of “Obey Middle East Mural” at the ICA; Fairey in front of “Obama Hope” at the ICA; case of Fairey Obama-related stuff including framed letter from Senator Obama to Fairey, Feb. 22, 2008 (click on photo to read enlarged letter) and Time magazine cover, Dec. 29, 2008/Jan. 5, 2009; case including “Original Andre Artwork” from June 1989 (standing upright next to OK Cola can); back of “Original Andre Artwork” with note by Fairey’s then roomate; “Obey 3 Face Series,” 1996; “Obey Middle East Mural,” 2009; Fairey speaks to the press; rubyliths from 1997 to 2008; poster grid; “Obey” on front of ICA; “Obey Revolution Girl,” 2005; “Obey Icon Pole,” 2000; “Obama Hope,” 2008; “Mujer Fatal,” 2008; “Obey Angela Davis,” 2005.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

God, Greg. I'm so disappointed. "It's probably the hottest show in the nation right now." "Credit the ICA for nailing the zeitgeist." Please tell me your overlords at the Phoenix made you write that.

February 17, 2009 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Greg Cook said...

Nah, Thomas, that’s all me. I think you and I disagree on the aesthetic value of the show, but I don’t see these statements as art judgments. I think they’re both facts. Is there a hotter, more popular, more buzzy art show in the country right now? Hasn’t the ICA nailed the zeitgeist by presenting this show of Fairey right at a zenith of his fame – and a zenith of interest in street art?

February 18, 2009 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Thomas Garvey said...

Uh, maybe so, and if the ICA were a store, your comments would be fabulously apropos! Only it's not - whoops, sorry, "not supposed to be" - a store, and it's not supposed to merely track trends. Again, we probably disagree about that as well. And one of my underlying points is that you don't really MAKE many "art judgments" about the show - aside from the obvious one that yes, he's a talented graphic designer (I agree with you there) - because there really aren't many "art judgments" to be made - actually, when you do make a judgment it's generally to point out that the imagery doesn't really cohere, so good for you. But generally, there's simply nothing to judge, except to point out that politically, his work is idiotic, and in formal terms, it's a peppy but brainless assemblage of other people's stuff! And please, don't make yet another lame Sebastian-Smee-style defense of his appropriation, because this only points up the fact that he's even copying other appropriators. I suppose you could make the point that he has, indeed, further erased whatever line exists between fine art and branding. That's progress of a sort - or do I mean regress of a sort? Still, can't you just admit for a moment - your Phoenix article practically does it for you anyway - that this show is not so much a celebration of an artist as an audience? That Shepard Fairey is not so much a creative force as the personification of a silly matrix of adolescent pop attitudes? Then, sure - go crazy.

February 19, 2009 at 8:57 PM  
Blogger Greg Cook said...

Oh, Tom, so many points I probably should respond to.

All that stuff about Fairey as appropriator and erasing the lines between art and branding is just a distraction that art world folks use to avoid talking about what’s really going on in the work. What’s really going on is that it’s seductive, fun, catchy stuff – with a dollop of rebellious-ish-ness. Could it be more substantial? Sure. Do I feel like I’m being sold some slick empty stuff? Some of the time, yeah. But Fairey is satisfying in the way that the best pop music is satisfying.

To put it another way, when so much art is ugly and dull to find some stuff that is well designed and peppy … well, that’s something of an achievement. I think Fairey also does some other stuff well – like tapping into something of the soulful rusty glory of urban decay – but well-designed and peppy by itself ain’t bad.

February 19, 2009 at 10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yikes! You basically just said "art should be like pop music"!

Well. There's not much to say after that. Especially when I could be contemplating Rembrandt while listening to J. Geils.

But really, Greg, I do almost wonder - what is with you people? I have no interest, zero, zip, none whatsoever, in making pop music like fine art. Not like Chekhov or Shakespeare; not like Manet or Vermeer! Yet you and your ilk at the Phoenix and the Globe seem driven by the opposite hunger - you seem to want to turn everything, every form of human expression, into some manifestation or other of the pop song.

What's that about? Because I can easily agree that Shepard Fairey's work is, indeed, like a series of pop songs; frankly, the concepts aren't much, but you can dance to them! And that is precisely why they are not fine art. But you, and Geoff Edgers and Joel Brown oh and god knows half the college kids in this town, are determined to erase that distinction. Fairey's just your latest banner in "the struggle!"

I'm just curious as to why. Is it a long-harbored resentment of the fact that people like me, although we like pop music plenty, have never really been willing to pretend that it has the same depth as great art? That we really can't come back to even, oh, The White Album, and discover new depths the way we can in Beethoven?

Is that it? Because if that is it, and if we do start pretending that, would you stop trying to take down Western culture? Because frankly I will worship fucking Radiohead like gods if you people will just give up on trying to destroy civilization. I mean it.

February 20, 2009 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger Greg Cook said...

Dearest Mr. Garvey,

I would like to address all your fine points, but I’m quite busy with all this civilization taking down. You see I’m booked for the next several days taking down Western culture. And all next week taking down Eastern culture. And then Southern culture. And Northern culture. Oh, my work is never finished. But I pledge to you that all of it will be down taken before I rest.

Perhaps I would consider relenting if you really were to worship Radiohead like gods.

But, no, no, what am I saying ... I will not give up. I will never give up.

I and my army of civilization destroyers, we ilk, we happy ilk, we band of ilk, we will never waiver from our calling until you believe that Chekhov and Shakespeare and Manet and Vermeer are all crap.

Not simply pretend they're crap. But actually, deep in your heart believe it.

And even then we ilk will not back down.

very truly yours,


February 21, 2009 at 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My problem with this show is not the work or the artist. Though I'm not a fan, I also don't hate his work. It is the lack of critical thought around the show.

First, he is 38 and is getting a 20 year retrospective? Everything he has done since he was 18 is worth looking at? Really? Never mind that this show took a few years to make and you are really talking about 10-15 years of work at most. From a critical and historical perspective, I'd say that the guys in the Street Level show from a few months ago deserve more of a mid-career retrospective than Mr. Fairey.

And name one thing that the ICA released that questions anything that Mr. Fairey says about himself. They take him at his word and parrot his view of himself word for word. It's like he rented the ICA and wrote/designed the text about him himself.

He is the most talked about show right now, granted, but I don't think that discussion is all positive or has anything to do with his work.

February 21, 2009 at 6:01 PM  
Blogger Thomas Garvey said...

To details, details! What's with all this common-sensical, let's-wait-till-he-draws-something-on-his-own b.s.? He is the hot, man, HOT, didn't you read what Greg said? What else do you really need to know?

To Greg: yes, well, carry on, lord knows I can't stop you. It's nice to hear you admit it, though.

(PS - just kidding about Radiohead!)

February 22, 2009 at 10:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home