Shepard Fairey: Supply & Demand
at the Andy Warhol Museum through January 31
Several of the pieces on display at the Warhol proudly proclaim "repetition works." Perhaps the organizers of this exhibition should have remembered a different maxim: "familiarity breeds contempt."
Let's face it, Shepard Fairey's work is slick, glib, and shallow. I don't mean this as an insult — his chosen method if dissemination makes those qualities virtues. When the goal is to attract the attention of a passing pedestrian or motorist, simple and direct is the best approach. When Fairey's art is experienced at this level repetition does work, with comprehension and appreciation setting in as individual pieces are gradually encountered over the course of days, weeks, months, years.
But these virtues can become flaws — the problem with "Supply & Demand" is that there is too much Shepard Fairey on display. Visitors are confronted with dozens of minor variations on the same shallow themes, when one or two examples might suffice. The completism on display is laudable but it does the work a disservice by constantly drawing attention to the constant repition of the same handful of motifs with little variation of the underlying message. (Fairey does occasionally try to make his work seem deeper by passing it off as a phenomenological experiment, but frankly his manifestoes read like pomo claptrap designed to impress grant committees. Or to get the culture cops on his side when he's eventually busted for vandalism.)
Fortunately, despite these flaws Shepard Fairey is an accomplished graphic artist and approaching his work from a design perspective can be extraordinarly rewarding. His current penchant for baroque orientalism is refreshing and can reward deep study. On the other hand, if you're unable to approach the work from this perspective you may find the show somewhat lacking.
"Shepard Fairey: Supply & Demand" is on display at the Andy Warhol Museum through January 31, 2010.
Earlier this week I noticed another Shepard Fairey mural on the side of Smokin' Joe's Saloon on the South Side. When I first went hunting for murals Rob and I ate at Smokin' Joe's and completely failed to notice the mural. In addition, my office is only two blocks away from the mural which means I've been passing it every day for two months without noticing it. Frankly, that's embarassing.
"Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand, SuperTrash & Unnatural Rubber" starts tomorrow at the Warhol Museum and continues through January 31st.
Higher-resolution versions are available in my Flickr photosteram, as usual.
I spotted this on the way into work this morning and snuck out on my lunch break to grab a quick photo with my point-n-shoot.
I'm not entirely sure this is officially part of Fairey's installations — it's far simpler than the others. I'd wager he just spotted a blank wall and went for it. Then again, it is right next to the Silver Eye gallery...
Graffiti/poster artist Shepard Fairey was in Pittsburgh for the Netroots Nation last week. While he was here he also pasted up several "murals" around town to promote his October show at the Andy Warhol museum. This Saturday my buddy Rob and I decided to go around and photograph as many the murals as we could find.. We eventually documented eight of them, though I've heard there may be as many as ten floating around the city. Anyone have any clues as to where the others might be hiding?
You can see some better photos of the individual murals over in my Flickr photostream.
Fairey vs. Montano
As I was processing my photos of Fairey's murals I was suddenly reminded of local artist Daniel Montano. Montano, for those of you who aren't locals, was a talented young artist who was sentenced to hard time for tagging any wall he could find. Shepard Fairey has also been arrested several times for defacing property with his "murals." So why is one of these artists fêted by the local community and the other one denounced by editorials?
My first instinct was to attribute this to Pittsburgh provincialism — Montano is a local boy who clearly can't be any good, while Fairey has national and international acclaim — but that doesn't really hold up when you thing about it. If anything, Pittsburgh has the exact opposite problem, extolling the virtues of local artists far more than is merited. (Really, folks, no one outside of the metro area remembers Donnie Iris at all. Stop treating him like a rock god.)
My next thought was that Fairey's murals are more complex and accomplished than Montano's tags, but it's not like Montano was just scribbling out garbage — his tags were true works of street art — and some of Fairey's early work really consists of nothing more than sophomoric and crude stickers. So that theory doesn't cut it either.
At the moment the best answer I've been able to come up with is that the properties "vandalized" by Fairey are hundreds of miles away, so local property owners don't have an axe to grind. Anyone have any better ideas?