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Ok, I obey.

9 Mar


I think I owe Shephard Fairey an apology.  After attending his show at the ICA I was mildly impressed.  Still not impressed by his artistic creativity, because his work seems to be very copycatish, but by his intellectual creativity and the prolific nature of his work.  He has made a ton of pieces and his work is displayed, by nature, all over urban jungles.  I’m impressed by that strategy in general.  Unfortunately, the police who cite him are not so impressed.  Today Shephard Fairey must bow to the system.  As first reported by the AP and mentioned in the Globe,

The street artist who created the famous red, white, and blue “Hope” poster of President Obama is due in court for two pretrial hearings in Boston this week. Facing various vandalism charges, Shepard Fairey is scheduled to appear in Brighton District Court tomorrow and in Roxbury District Court on Wednesday. Last month, the 38-year-old Los Angeles resident was arrested in Boston on charges of vandalizing property with his art. He was preparing to attend the opening night of his exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

I do feel bad for Mr. Fairey, but his art infringes on the public sphere and some people are not pleased.  I’m guessing Mr. Fairey identifies as a libertarian.  I wonder if Banksy in the UK has ever had similar legal issues.  Also, coincidence that it was on opening night?


Public art, does it have to represent the city or the artist?

3 Mar

CloudgateI found it amusing last week when I visited Chicago, excited to see Cloud Gate after going to Anish Kapoor’s incredible exhibit at the Boston ICA, to find that most Chicagoans don’t even know that their massive piece of public art in Millennium park is called Cloud Gate.  They all just call it ‘the bean.’  Nor did they know that it was made by the world-renowned sculpture Anish Kapoor.  I guess it isn’t really surprising that no one knew the name — I’ve been in Boston for years and always thought the Zakim bridge was called the Tobin bridge and have no idea who designed it.  That surprise along with the current debate surrounding “Blue Mustang,” a new piece of public art outside the Denver Airport, spurs me to question public art and its purpose.Blue Mustang

A local Denver resident fanned the fires of this hot new debate as she created an internet forum for comments, or more accurately haikus.  Want to know what I’m talking about?  Here is an excerpt from the NYT article.

“It’s definitely achieved its purpose of being memorable,” said Rachel Hultin, a real-estate broker in Denver who started a page on Facebook last month to vent her horse anxieties,, and found herself at the center of the debate.

Ms. Hultin, who said she started the campaign partly on a whim, “after a few drinks with friends,” also suggested on her page that people post comments in haiku form. Denver residents and travelers who had formed an opinion about the statue while passing through, leapt at the challenge. To wit:

Anxiously I fly
apocalyptic hell beast
fails to soothe my nerves.

Local artists and city public art administrators say “Blue Mustang” has stirred a deeper debate too, about Denver itself, and what sort of image it wants to communicate. Is “Blue Mustang” an echo of the city’s high-plains bronco-busting past? Or a mocking denunciation of the Old West conventions? Or is it just strange?

This leads me to ask, should public art ever stir debate or should it always try to reflect the status quo and only egg on ‘oohs’ and ‘aws’?  I believe there is something really uniting and magical about public art that we could better harness.  We all look at it, and almost all of us appreciate it, regardless of our political or social affiliations.  We could use it as a gathering point literally and figuratively.  But, if it is deemed offensive by over half a city or state’s population should it be taken down?  What about 1/3?  Who decides what should go up and how much it is worth to the community?

Ms. Hultin, who started most of the fiery comments has since changed her mind and I think we can learn a lot about her evolved point of view.  Regardless of why it has been put up, we (the public) should use public art as a common way to connect about larger issues.  As Ms. Hultin insinuates for that in the last paragraph, we should use controversies that involve our entire community as a jumping off point to further understand each other.

Ms. Hultin, meanwhile, who got the ball rolling with her antihorse Facebook page, has changed her mind. She no longer wants “Blue Mustang” removed, as she once did. (City policy holds that public art pieces are left in place for five years, anyway, and officials have given no sign of budging.)

She now thinks that pamphlets at the airport, and maybe education courses for airport bus drivers, could lead viewers into a deeper understanding of the horse and the artist, she said, notwithstanding that she had been called “every name in the book” by defenders of the statue.

“In the process of being personally attacked through e-mail, and through learning more about the piece, I’ve shifted gears from, ‘I don’t think it’s appropriate,’ to ‘Let’s try and understand it,’ ” she said.