Thursday, March 19, 2009

Public Art

Worth reposting in total I think is Jill Medvedow's (the director of the ICA) response to the puritanistic response by many vocal old windbags to Shepard Fairey and his arrest. Such idiocy and a waste of public money. Let's get on with our lives, we have many more issues to deal with here in good ol corrupt Boston. And let's see more graffiti all over! Lively up the public sphere!


A Message from Jill Medvedow, Director, Boston ICA
Shepard Faireyʼs art and arrest have exposed the nerve endings of longtime issues regarding public space, graffiti, fair use and copyright and launched us into a culture war of our own right here in Boston. The ICA mounted a major exhibition of Shepard Fairey because his artwork is powerful, commanding, and important. Fairey combines strong imagery with abstract pattern and design, and draws on artistic traditions as diverse and historic as Art Nouveau, Islamic abstraction, Cubism, Constructivism, and the great graphic artists and muralists of the Soviet Union and Latin America. Record numbers of people, including teens and young adults are responding enthusiastically to his art, his energy and the ideas and images heʼs created for public consumption.

As a street artist, Faireyʼs stunning graphics have been presented on city walls, and other public places. To ensure that Boston audiences could experience Faireyʼs street art, the ICA worked with both public and private individuals and institutions to provide several sanctioned spaces for Faireyʼs murals and banners: City Hall Plaza; the House of Blues; the A Street diner, Tufts University, and private homeowners, all of whom granted permission.

In Boston, Fairey did not need to resort to postering without consent. Still, consent is one of the key issues addressed in Faireyʼs art. We are constantly bombarded by unwanted images in the public sphere. These images – wrapped on buses and billboards, for example – are based on an exchange between corporations buying and selling space in the public domain. When a private entity purchases that space in the realm of commerce, it is deemed acceptable. Fairey, with his ironic and iconic OBEY brand, asks us to question that exchange. He is, in fact, breaking the bond of consent to ask where the room is for public consumption of non-commercial images? And who gets to set that agenda?

Consent also relates to Faireyʼs use of existing photographs in his work, including his transformation of the now iconic photograph of Obama, taken by an Associated Press photographer. Appropriation is a long-standing artistic strategy, used by artists as diverse as Picasso and Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and Richard Prince. Standing in front of the layered, mixed media portrait of Obama hanging in the ICA, one is unmistakably looking at a work of art by Shepard Fairey. His transformation of the original photograph includes digital manipulation, cropping, collage, color, the addition of text, and an intricate use of layering, pattern, logos and design. Artistic transformation is the ethical and legal difference between plagiarism and art.

The vitriolic and knee jerk reaction that all graffiti is the same, that it all contributes to the defacement of our urban environment, and that it is equivalent, according to Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, “to relieving oneself on someoneʼs private lawn” uses stereotypes to incite resentment, stirring up a backwards-looking sense of us and them and widening the generational divide. Two tickets are waiting in Cullenʼs name at the ICA so he can see Faireyʼs work, hopefully with an open mind.

Since the arrest, Iʼve been asked numerous times if I would like to come home and find my house or our museum covered with graffiti. I would not like that, nor do I wish that experience on others. Shepard Fairey didnʼt and doesnʼt put his art on peopleʼs homes or on public institutions; his work is primarily on abandoned buildings and derelict sites and many, if not most people, see them as a positive contribution to the visual urban landscape. What Shepard Fairey does do, however, is raise important and loaded questions about the balance between public and private space; about youth and age; about dissemination and distribution of art and imagery in a digital era; about sampling, ownership, intellectual property and fair use. More public space should be public, not privatized. Fair use must extend to artistic intention and transformation. Is it possible to debate and discuss these timely and relevant issues without polarizing neighborhoods and generations? When news of Faireyʼs arrest was reported nationwide and internationally, the response was: what do you expect from Boston? I, for one, expect better.

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