Fairey Update

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I don’t know if anyone is dying for a Shepard Fairey update but here’s the latest.

Because of my involvement with the Fairey/Garcia/AP case, I have now been served a subpoena by Fairey’s lawyers and will shortly be deposed. This means gathering every piece of paper relating to any of the above and then being questioned and recorded under oath. No big deal, just a pain.

By coincidence, I happened to be in Boston today and thought I should visit Shep’s show at the ICA. As I have always maintained, I’m actually a fan of Fairey’s work (just not his image “borrowing”) and it’s an amazing show. Beautifully and thoughtfully conceived and installed and full of good work. If you’re anywhere nearby go and see it.

As many of you know I enjoy taking pictures in museums and it always seems silly to me to not allow photography. At this show, however, the young guards were trained with what seemed like military precision - always on the move, crossing from one gallery to another in a way that never left a room unguarded. It was eerie and ironic. But not quite as hypocritical as the sign that greets you as you’re about to enter the show requesting “Please no photography in galleries”!

So in true guerilla spirit, I had to snap at least one with my iPhone:

If all this wasn’t enough, last week I got an e-mail from the film-maker and journalist, Edward Nachtrieb. As Nachtreib explained:

Exactly 20 years ago I took this picture of an armed Chinese soldier at the onset of martial law in Beijing. That same image, with no attachment to its original context or how it fits into the Chinese story, was appropriated by artist Shepard Fairy (of the Obama "Hope Poster" fame).

Beijing residents, using busses and their bodies, had blocked a convoy of soldiers attempting to enter the city. This was the first appearance of lethal weapons on the streets and was a precursor of what was to come on June 4. I'm sure the reality of the picture is not relevant to the artist...but I find that disturbing. Images stripped of their context but retaining strong emotional elements are hallmarks of fascist and Soviet propaganda styles - an acknowledged inspiration for this artist. In this case, I think a lack of accurate context for the image drains it of meaning. It's also dishonest. I suggest that Mr Fairey credit those whose materials he uses to "inspire" him. The truth of things might help enhance the depth of how his work is perceived and actually make it more interesting to contemplate and not just cool to look at.

Inside Fairey’s ICA show, one of the wall texts proudly quotes Warhol saying “Art is anything you can get away with.” This is one of many things the court will have to decide in the Fairey/AP case.


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