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Vandal-in-chief

Shepard Fairey bombs the ICA
By GREG COOK  |  February 10, 2009

090213_fairey_main55
OBEY REVOLUTION GIRL (2005): Fairey channels the old radical chic, mining the language of propaganda as well as the language of rebellion.

“Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand” | Institute Of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave, Boston | Through August 16

Slideshow: "Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand"

Interview: Shepard Fairey. By Evan J. Garza.

Video: Shepard Fairey slaps a mural on the Phoenix's offices.

Recap: The Shepard Fairey party at the ICA. By Chris Faraone.

Shepard Fairey and his show "Supply and Demand" arrive at the Institute of Contemporary Art like a guerrilla general emerging from the jungle after his forces have taken the capital. There's still some sniping going on (the Associated Press says the Los Angeles street artist's ubiquitous Obama "Hope" poster infringes on copyright because the image is too closely based on an AP photo, and Globe editorial cartoonist Dan Wasserman calls him a "graphic pickpocket"), but it's clear who's won the battle.

Property owners across the area have invited him — a guy arrested 15 times (including this weekend's Boston bust; see our Editorial, on page 4) for sticking stuff where people didn't want it — to poster their walls. Fairey's banner — his trademark Andre the Giant icon — is pasted atop the ICA façade. And, as you've likely heard, Obama won.

The ICA bills "Supply and Demand" as Fairey's first museum survey, and perhaps the first major museum exhibit of a street artist. The show — some 250 works spanning 20 years — is pretty awesome. It doesn't hurt that Obama is in the White House; all Fairey's prints hating on the Bush administration would be a lot pricklier — and make you feel like shit — if things had gone the other way. But time is on Fairey's side. It's probably the hottest show in the nation right now.

"For me it was never about being a rebel," Fairey, dressed in jeans, sneakers and Clash T-shirt, explains at the ICA press preview. "Dissent when necessary is a component of any democracy. . . . I am actually trying to be constructive with this stuff."

Credit the ICA for nailing the zeitgeist. Tara Donovan won a MacArthur "Genius Grant" shortly before her show opened at the ICA last fall. ICA assistant curator Emily Moore Brouillet began planning the Fairey show before his Obama poster came out a year ago. (She left the ICA last year; guest curator Pedro Alonzo finished the show.) Add in this past summer's Anish Kapoor show and the ICA has had three big hits in a row.

The Fairey phenomenon began as a throw-away joke when he was studying at Rhode Island School of Design in 1989. He photocopied stickers of the wrestler Andre the Giant with the scrawled slogan "Andre the Giant has a posse." He covered Providence with them. Then the world. It was an anti-movement promoting nothing — weird, mysterious, absurdly funny.

Fairey pioneered the move from graffiti to street art, from tagging to stickering and postering. His earliest Andre stickers are scuzzy, identifying the artist's roots in punk. During those early years he seemed to be trying on other people's styles. It wasn't until about 1995 that he found his voice by adding the slogan "Obey" and streamlining Andre's face, transforming the late wrestler from the sweet lunkhead of The Princess Bride into an ominous Big Brother.

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Related: Interview: Shepard Fairey, Radical chic, Shepard Fairey bombs Boston, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Obey,  More more >
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