Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shepard Fairey at the ICA

Sid Vicious Subversion, 2001
Screen print on wood

Co-curated by guest curator Pedro Alonzo and Emily Moore Bouillet, former assistant curator at the ICA.

Where: Institute of Contemporary art
When: Feb. 6 - Aug. 16


It’s been a long time since I’ve anticipated an art show so much.
Shepard Fairey in his first solo show and 20-year retrospective did not disappoint. I went and checked out the exhibit yesterday during the press opening. Here are some thoughts and pictures from the preview.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he is a Los Angeles based street artist that cut his teeth in the art world right here in New England. As a student during the late 1980’s at the Rhode Island School of Design, Shepard Fairey created and displayed a homemade sticker on the streets of Providence. That sticker, featuring an image of professional wrestler Andre the Giant and the phrase “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” quickly became an icon in the street art movement. After seeing the movie “They Live” he switched up the image to “Obey Giant” after seeing messages in the movie that resonated with him and for the last 20 years he has been reinventing not only his art, but the way we look at media, propaganda and advertising.

The thing I find most important in his background is his punk rock ethos, proudly displayed in many of the works of art on display at the ICA. Punk rock is as much about rebellion, politics and DIY (do it yourself) as it is about 3 chords and fast music. It’s a lifestyle choice, one that often questions everything from authority to social status and so called traditional values. In the image above, Sid Vicious is pictured in one of his typical “in your face, I have a sneer and I don’t care about anything” photos. With an obvious nod to the “Great Rock and Roll Swindle” (a movie that featured Sid and the Sex Pistols), Fairey encourages the viewer to DO IT YOUR WAY, and SWINDLE. Doing it yourself has long been a mantra of the Punk and the financially challenged(which often go hand-in-hand). The swindle is finding ways of doing things for free, which (as Shepard pointed out during the press opening for this exhibit) he had to do as a struggling artist. He told a story about rigging the copy machines at Kinkos to get free prints, but at the time, the only color prints available were in black and red, an aesthetic he has stuck with through his whole career.

(Shepard Fairey talks to the press at his show at the ICA)

Street art, graffiti, whatever you want to call it, is among other things, a response to advertising. We’re bombarded with images since birth, commercials, magazine ads, billboards and those images and sayings stick with you over time. Street artists have long ago figured that out and used the walls to get their message across.. for free. Most graffiti writers tend to be very self serving, placing their name all over, marking where they’ve been. Shepard Fairey is a different breed. Using his “Obey Giant” campaign as a marketing tool, he plastered the now famous “Andre the Giant” image everywhere, all across the globe. He set the standard for street “branding”. Once Obey was known, he could take it anywhere, allowing his philosophies, political leanings and influences slowly to be known through new projects. This show is a culmination of that growth, with pieces touching on war, economy, popular culture and more. With 244 pieces, it’s safe to say that this is a complete representation of his work over the last 20 years. It’s great to see the original stickers that he started his career with and then look at the huge collaged pieces that were done exclusively for the ICA.

If you’re in the Boston area, please get out and about and check out his work on the street. The museum is a beautiful place to see his work, but there’s something a little more authentic about seeing it in public and observing how it interacts with its environment. For a complete list of the outdoor work click here

The show is sponsored by Levi’s, which one may find to be an ironic twist, but corporations have long since used street artists and their credibility to market their wares, this comes as no surprise to me. The pleasant surprise is that Levi’s did it right. In this economy, art is one of the first things that gets the shaft, so I think it’s pretty cool that they sponsored this and helped bring this awesome show to the ICA.

(and no, I’m not getting any free stuff from Levi’s for saying that) unless they want to send me something.. hahaha


MILC said...

Shepard Fairey has a posse

Boston lowbrow said...

I've posted some thoughts on this as well. OBEY Apparel Ltd..

The Baffled King said...

Mike, I'm a songwriter from Barcelona, planning to go to Boston for a while. I'd like to mail you some questions...send me something at

Keep on

Stanley Workman said...

"God is Chaos.
Tithe Ritalin."
-Marc Breed, Fine Artist

"I laid nestled between the thighs of her dying body. The ambilical cord providing the scant nurishment, until rescued some 36 hours hence. You might say, I was born a fetish photographer."
-Marc Breed