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Fairey arrested; supporters bleat in protest

Post #1292 • February 9, 2009, 8:06 AM • 40 Comments

Via Necee, Obama 'Hope' poster artist arrested in Boston:

Shepard Fairey, the controversial street artist riding a roller coaster of publicity with his red, white, and blue posters of President Barack Obama, was arrested last night on his way to DJ an event kicking off his exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art. ...

The artist was arrested at about 9:15 p.m. as he was about to enter a sold-out dance event at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Northern Avenue, known as "Experiment Night." The event is geared toward a younger-age crowd, with techno-style music, and more than 750 people were waiting for him, some of whom had bought tickets for the event on Craigslist for as much as $500. ...

"We're very disappointed," said Paul Bessire, deputy director of the Institute of Contemporary Art. ... "Shepard Fairey is a wonderful artist who created some positive work and we were very pleased to present his work here and around the city. We feel he is an influential artist."

...anti-graffiti activists complained that a street artist was going to be the subject of a museum show. But Bessire said, "We feel he is an influential artist. We were just very pleased and felt fortunate to show his work." ...

"I wouldn't say it's cool he was arrested, but I think it shows he has integrity," said Bill Galligan, a graphic designer. ...

Ginny Delany, a 27-year-old graduate student from Cambridge, said, "It makes him even more of a hero to me. The fact that he is arrested for his art shows that it is meaningful tohim [sic] and he cares about what he is doing."

I had it in my head that I was going to write an objective review of the Shepard Fairey show that ignored the hype and regarded the objects in the ICA at face value, which have their virtues. Regretfully that has become impossible. To do so now would only contribute to a particularly lame succès de scandale. At the moment I feel more inclined to wait a couple of decades and see if anyone is still talking about him, and if so, whether they've mustered less dunderheaded praises. Maybe they'll be saying how his work has electrolytes.



Bunny Smedley

February 9, 2009, 8:34 AM

He claims to have been arrested 'at least 14 times', according to that link. Busy chap!

As for this, though ...

Ginny Delany, a 27-year-old graduate student from Cambridge, said, "It makes him even more of a hero to me. The fact that he is arrested for his art shows that it is meaningful tohim [sic] and he cares about what he is doing."

... this story is, at least, a fascinating counterpoint to the earlier Valland discussion. Hero, eh?



February 9, 2009, 8:42 AM

Except for the Obama thingy, which will still be showing up in junk shops, Fairey will be completely forgotten in less than 15 years. Idiocracy is a brilliant satire.



February 9, 2009, 9:42 AM

"more than 750 people were waiting for him, some of whom had bought tickets for the event on Craigslist for as much as $500"

Indeed. I'd comment, but it's like shooting fish in a barrel. I suppose one should just find this sad nonsense amusing, but it's a little too disturbing for that.



February 9, 2009, 9:56 AM

$500 to see this guy? Good grief! I guess I truly live in another world.

Arresting him as he entered was cool. That's like LAW AND ORDER, where the miscreants get hooked at the most embarrassing times and places.

Like Bunny, I fully appreciate the notion that being arrested is a testament to integrity. Are these people still back in the 60s, or what?



February 9, 2009, 9:58 AM

It is too bad that Andre Rene Roussimoff's relatives won't be getting any cash from the sales of Fairey's crappy merch.


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 9:59 AM

Honestly, I don't like Fairey because he's no doubt made a lot of money from something very simple: Plagiarism. I wish I'd thought of that.

Oh, wait, I did, only it's dishonest.

When it comes to this kind of thing I much prefer Banksy. I love the story of how he and an accomplice went into museums and glued his work to the wall. There's something I wish I'd thought of.

I don't know if it's art but it sure sounds like fun.

...his red, white, and blue posters of President Barack Obama...

I really thought the one stroke of brilliance in that poster design -- aside from backing a winning horse at exactly the right time, when it was clear he was going to win but hadn't quite won yet -- the truly brilliant thing about it is it's not white in the poster, it's off-white. Almost bone. The blues and red used are just off the regular flag colors, also.

I think Fairey cribbed the blue and red off the Obama campaign logo, which I happen to think is a work of genius in the logo department. It's up there with Saul Bass. But I've only seen that logo with pure white; Fairey chose an off-white and I think that's what makes the poster really work. It gives it an aged, old-fashioned look. It's a bit of a cliche in these latter days of Photoshop to faux-age things, to lift color schemes from old newspaper comics and so forth -- it's like Lichtenstein carefully hand-painting Ben-day dots, only turned around. But it works really well in this case.

I'm guessing Fairey had some underling handle it.



February 9, 2009, 10:00 AM

And again, I don't really blame Fairey for being (and acting like) what he is, which is, however regrettably, common enough. Such people will always be with us, in the arts and in every other sphere. Falling for them with such infantile ease, and blithely enabling them, is another matter. Pitiful.


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 10:04 AM

Since Andre sold his name to Vince McMahon, no, Andre's family certainly won't get anything. Titan Sports did threaten to sue, which is why we now have OBEY.

I looked at that Obama poster again and hell, it's not even bone. It's actively beige, just slightly lighter (on my monitor) than Franklin's background here.

Hurrah for the red, ecru, and blue!



February 9, 2009, 10:27 AM

I am not plagiarizing I am recontextualizing.



February 9, 2009, 10:55 AM

I'm sure Shepard couldn't have asked for a more perfect ending to the evening.



February 9, 2009, 11:01 AM

Fairey himself aside, this whole incident is a good illustration of how low "serious" art institutions have sunk and how trivial they've become. Obviously, the ICA was trying to cash in on a hot-ticket item, however insubstantial and ephemeral, to attract and cater to as many members as possible of a desirable demographic and socioeconomic status. There could also be a political or ideology angle at work, and there very probably was, but again, that has nothing to do with artistic merit.

So what am I supposed to think of the ICA's real priorities and motives?

Exactly what I do think, and it's not especially pretty.


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 11:35 AM

Now you're just baiting us, Eric.



February 9, 2009, 11:47 AM

Funny how the discussion over at Winkleman's parallels this one. Copyright is dead. Those suckers who create original content better get over it. Oh yeah. Originality is a myth. Nothing is new under the sun. Appropriation is the new originality. Blah blah blah, etc.



February 9, 2009, 11:51 AM

Ah, the trendy/hip-unto-death crowd...sigh...yawn.


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 12:28 PM

I waded into that argument on more than one blog a few years ago. I remember one moron saying something like, "You're questioning the validity of appropriation?" As if it was a totally settled account.

It's amazing how quickly revolution solidifies into cant.



February 9, 2009, 12:38 PM

Gee I liked Feary when his work was just on his Obey web site and it was hard to get his posters and nobody I knew had heard of him. I had a big HOPE poster on my front door for the campaign. I think he deserves his day at the ICA, though I wouldn't wish the hype on anybody.



February 9, 2009, 12:48 PM

Evidently, pretty much anybody deserves his/her day at the ICA and comparable outfits, assuming s/he's sufficiently trendy, topical and what have you. It's called opportunism, but never mind.



February 9, 2009, 12:48 PM

Appropriation is fine until you are the one who gets burned by it.


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 12:50 PM

I prefer to call it dumpster diving.



February 9, 2009, 3:00 PM

Thank goodness. Fairey is countersuing.

opie: How far away from Boca Raton is your studio?



February 9, 2009, 3:20 PM

I don't know the distance but it is in Coral Gables.



February 9, 2009, 3:21 PM

Re #19, Chris, I prefer to call it wanting a license to steal other people's stuff to compensate for insufficient creativity, imagination and/or talent. Of course, to those who don't have what it takes themselves, "appropriating" from others is naturally tempting, not to mention convenient.

And of course this guy is countersuing. He's gotta keep the publicity machine going, as well as gaining more moronic admirers with his would-be rebel posturing.

The undoubtedly well-heeled establishment types who were breathlessly waiting for him at that ICA dance thing and had paid through the nose to be there are really, really pathetic. They figure they can buy hipness or street cred or whatever the hell this guy supposedly represents, just like they can buy a new BMW.



February 9, 2009, 3:37 PM

Nothing wrong with appropriation, as far as I can see. For instance, I think this poster could be riffed on to great effect by, say, a talented RSID graduate with a preference for Ron Paul...


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 4:10 PM


[Che Guevara graphic]
[Black Panther fist]
[Al Gore graphic]



February 9, 2009, 6:10 PM

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this column but it is pertinent here, and fun to read.


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 7:06 PM

Where'd I see that article on Fairey? Talk about the swastika being repurposed -- Fairey already sold a line of t-shirts with the Gestapo death's head, which was bought by Wal-Mart and sold until someone noticed.

Oh, here it is. Was that posted here before?


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 7:13 PM

Not for nothing, OP, but that Breitbart is a nutbar.



February 9, 2009, 7:17 PM

Maybe we should simply stop talking about this guy. His only real significance and interest artwise is what he illustrates about what the system has become, even though that's rather old news. There's also the matter of the sociological dysfunction eloquently (after a fashion) illustrated by the three people quoted in Franklin's post, who are no doubt fully representative of many, many others of similar ilk. Still, it's tiresome to talk about yet another huckster/operator.



February 9, 2009, 7:28 PM

I just saw one of the posters in the flesh... while the red might be just like the red off ol' glory, there are two different blues: a greyish and a navyish... neither look like the blue from the flag to me. And the background was off-white, but definitely not beige.

Maybe I'm being too literal, again...


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 7:44 PM

When I wrote "just off the flag colors" I didn't mean taken from the flag, I meant not quite matching the ones on the flag. I wasn't clear.

Color checking on monitors is lousy, so I'm not surprised the beige isn't really that beige. I don't think I've seen these in real life despite trips to New York. By now they've probably all been pulled down by collectors.



February 9, 2009, 7:48 PM

He may be a nutbar, Chris, but it certainly was not evident from the article, and that's all I ask.


Chris Rywalt

February 9, 2009, 8:37 PM

Basing it only on that article, he's a nutbar. He starts off with the hoary old Guilt By Association Fallacy -- did Obama hire Shepard Fairey? I don't think so -- and goes on from there.

I know "the Washington Times" sounds a lot like "the Washington Post," but only one's a real newspaper.



February 9, 2009, 8:52 PM

And even a 'real newspaper' is only worth so much these days...



February 9, 2009, 11:17 PM

Chris: wasn't the poster used extensively by the Obama campaign?

The article is critical, for sure. It is hardly "nutbar".



February 10, 2009, 7:16 AM

re; appropriation,

it used to just be called "stealing", and artists have always done this - every artist of any consequence. I remember a filmed interview with Stravinsky where he said with glee "I steal" from other composers.



February 10, 2009, 7:38 AM

There are degrees and types of stealing, David. What makes something illegal is basically a matter of degree of finish, use and value.

It is legal and customary to use a method like Cubism, for example, which spread very quickly in the 1910s, but illegal to use someone else's finished copyrighted image for purely commercial purposes.

The law is still evolving. I recall that Rauschenberg was successfully sued for using an image in a collage, which seemed to cross a line. Money is probably the primary instigator for litigation.

If one person steals is ti called theft and plagiarism. If a lot of artist do it we come up with a euphemism like appropriation.


Chris Rywalt

February 10, 2009, 8:09 AM

Was it here that I read someone was suing Richard Prince? Someone's suing Richard Prince. He should be locked up for crimes against sense and taste, but in the meantime, maybe he'll just have to stop using one guy's photos.

I don't think anyone sued Lichtenstein but he should've been litigated into the ground.

I'm a big fan of reducing copyright as much as possible. I think the belief in endless copyright is insane -- our public domain needs to expand. I think once ideas and images are released into the wild they belong at least partly to the viewers -- Mickey Mouse is literally using my neurons -- and as a culture we should recognize that. Too many people of my acquaintance, anyway, have a blinkered view of ownership in general as some kind of absolute right, even where intellectual property is concerned.

That said, I also believe in creativity and originality. And if your whole professional life consists of copying the work of others and passing it off as your own, well, you should be crushed like the bug you are.



February 10, 2009, 11:49 AM

Interesting dichotomy, Chris. Blissful freedom of use of other's material but "crushed like a bug" when you do?

Might need some middle ground there. I think that's what copyright law is for.


Chris Rywalt

February 10, 2009, 1:14 PM

Blissful freedom of use to make something new and worthwhile on its own out of it.

Visual art is a little less forgiving in this area. I mean, either you copy someone's image or you don't. Music is looser in this regard. You can quote another piece of music, refer to it musically, without having to copy the entire thing. Painting can be on the loose side, but, ultimately, it's more concrete than music when it comes to copying.

Copyright law, of course, is about the gray area. Most common law is like that. There are extremes at both ends -- either you've killed someone or you haven't -- but most of law is about defining the gray areas -- was it in self-defense? What constitutes self-defense?

I think the trouble is copyright law has been hijacked by corporations in pursuit of profits. This has led to a definite chilling effect on the entire culture. For example, there are movies not available on DVD entirely because they use music which is probably in the public domain but no one's certain. So rather than risk a lawsuit, the studio just doesn't release the movie. That's one less movie joining the wider discourse and the only reason is profit.

And of course there's Disney, the big copyright villain.

Anyway, my point is, you should get crushed like a bug when you stray out of the gray area and into the area of theft.



February 11, 2009, 11:19 AM

David Ross reports on Facebook that he is preparing for an appearance on the Colbert Report tomorrow (thursday) night "to defend Shepard Fairey". Should be fun.



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