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Obama 'Hope' artist under attack

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Will Gompertz | 10:43 UK time, Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A couple standing in front of Shepard Fairey's Obama Hope mural

Shepard Fairey, the graphic designer, street artist, ad man, political commentator and all-round 21st-Century visual arts polymath who is most famous for the Obama Hope posters, is finding life on the streets a little rocky.

May Day, his large new piece of street art on the corner of Houston Street and Bowery in New York, was commissioned by the Deitch Projects gallery to coincide with and promote its monographic show of his work. It has come under attack from taggers and others as reported in the Vanishing New York Blog and the New York Times Arts Beat blog.

Shepard FaireyIn this video, the eloquent Mr Fairey talks about the project while cherry-pickers and assistants beaver away in the background. He talks about the historical importance of the site - Keith Haring used it in 1982 - and his part in Banksy's film Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Deitch Projects has long been supporters of street art. The gallery represents the estate of Keith Haring and two years ago recreated his famous Houston Street/Bowery work to celebrate what would have been the late artist's 50th birthday.

In 2007, it put on a show of the brilliant Jean-Michel Basquiat's work and preceded the Shephard Fairy Houston Street commission with this one by the Brazilian twins, Os Gemeos.

I can see that, for some, it might run counter to the spirit of what is largely an underground movement to have a major public space dedicated to the work of street artists - it's hardly sticking it to The Man. But having helped to produce the Street Art show at Tate Modern a couple of years ago, where six international artists and partnerships produced colossal works on the side of the building overlooking the Thames, including one by Os Gemeos, and having seen how the artists chose to respond to the circumstances makes me think that a major permanent outside space for international commissions on this side of the Atlantic could elicit some memorable work.

Tate Modern's Street Art


  • Comment number 1.

    I think Fairey is damaged goods since his episode of lying about the origins of the 'Hope' image. Don't think he has credibility - plus he's just not a good artist.

  • Comment number 2.

    Fairey is a great graphic designer, and I love his work. But it seems to me that the term 'Artist' is too casually applied to too many people these days. It seems more to do with the intellectual content of a work (in some cases not even intended by its creator, but foisted on it by commentators), rather than any actual artistic talent or competency. And indeed, some so-called "artists" (Hirst, Koons etc) don't even create the work themselves, but pay more competent and talented people to do it for them. I think it's time the "It's Art because I say it is" position was brought down, burst for the empty balloon it really is.

    Or can I just say this email is "art" and charge you £150,000 for displaying it?

  • Comment number 3.

    I would have to disagree with Graphis' comment in one sense. By this logic, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (painted entirely by Michelangelo himself...) could be broken up and sold as postcards in the gift shop, and weekend watercolourists would be making millions. The idea is integral to the art and not necessarily the technical proficiency of the artist. If the artist cannot herself/himself execute this concept to the highest degree it deserves, then he or she should employ someone or multiple people who can. We can easily attribute a film to a director or a television programme to a producer, but that is with the understanding that it takes sound people, cinematographers, grips, lighting specialists, and actors, etc. to do it. Edison was not toiling away in his basement, making the first lightbulb; he had a team that worked to his ideas. Why must the artist be required to wear all of the hats to execute the final work? Michelangelo didn't, so why should Hirst, Koons or--to go back a few more years--Warhol? It's not 'art because I say it is' at all, and neither is it 'empty'. The truly unfortunate misconception is that the misunderstood genius artists should be ridden with tuberculosis making brilliant paintings on scraps of whatever they can get their hands on, whilst living in some damp hovel, moments from death. It's unlikely that they constructed their own frames.

    In regards to the article, while a street artist getting a fat commission to make a piece on the side of the Tate isn't so much 'sticking it to The Man', it is indeed a very positive direction in providing visibility for a movement which is often considered simply kitsch or illegal.


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