There was a Q&A session between Shepard Fairey and Fogg Museum curator Susan Dackerman before the public opening of Fairey’s exhibit at the ICA. The Q&A session had one stipulation-- questions were not allowed from the crowd. Apparently Dackerman asked repetitive questions concerning Fairey’s street art, his Obama campaign contributions, and meeting with Obama-- information that has been regurgitated by the press for months. She failed to ask questions about the recent copyright infringement allegations against the artist and failed to question his view of fair use and copyright in general-- two issues that have long shadowed Fairey‘s career and are as much of his history as an artist as anything else.
Fairey had a great opportunity to tackle issues that fans and critics alike had hoped he would address-- issues concerning fair use and the various copyright allegations against his art in recent years. One can only assume that he intentionally dodged talking about issues that are crucial to understanding his art and the thoughts behind his process. Needless to say, many feel that these issues should have been addressed-- especially since the exhibit covers the entirety of his career.
Fairey did mention what he called “accusations of plagiarism” briefly-- but quickly addressed other topics. He stated, “A lot of my work derives its power from the ways I’ve changed the message,” followed by, “I think it’s an important part of a pop culture dialogue.”. Dackerman failed to push Fairey further on the issue as she had done with other topics during their discussion. Again, questions from the audience were not allowed.
The issue of copyright infringement and debatable claims of fair use that have shadowed Shepard Fairey’s career may have not entered his Q&A session with Susan Dackerman-- but they certainly shadowed him from outside of the ICA. As Shepard Fairey answered soft questions inside the museum a small gathering of artists, photographers, and writers demanded answers concerning allegations of plagiarism and copyright infringement involving Fairey.
The crowd of copyright supporters mentioned that they did not think Shepard Fairey would answer tough questions about his alleged infringement of an AP owned photograph or other copyright infringement allegations involving artists such as Rene Mederos. Needless to say, their questions went unanswered. The voices of the people on the street were not heard by the street artist who comfortably addressed soft questions inside.
Inside Dackerman asked Fairey about why he decided to support the Obama campaign. Fairey replied by saying, “I could not stand by and watch the Bush administration destroy the principles this country was founded on and not say something.” His bold statement was met with applause from the audience. It would have been a good time for Dackerman to press Fairey on allegations of copyright infringement since many of the Founding Fathers of the United States acknowledged the Statute of Anne (1710) and were supportive of the Copyright Clause (1787) of the United States Constitution. She failed. It would have also been a good time for Dackerman to ask Fairey about his opinion concerning President Obama’s support of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)-- which could result in alleged copyright infringers being banned by their Internet Service Provider. Again, she failed.
When asked about his work with corporate clients like Saks and Pepsi Fairey stated that he acknowledges that, “in a capitalist society, art and commerce are always going to need each other” and that his goal is to make marketing art when working with corporate clients. Fairey explained to the audience that the income he receives from the corporate campaigns allows him to have complete freedom when creating art for a gallery or art on the streets. Fairey went on to suggest that artists lacking funds are more apt to bow to market forces.
Shepard Fairey has also been noted as saying “When you do work on the street, the act is one of defiance that’s automatically embedded in the work no matter the content,”. Followed by, “When you go into the gallery, obviously it’s a designated space and the work is not illegal. But there’s still the content of the work that I think communicates my ideas. Even though I spend more time on the gallery stuff, with more depth and layers, it still has the spirit of the street techniques.” during the session.
I asked Joey Krebs aka Joel Jaramillo aka the LA Street Phantom aka The Phantom Street Artist about Shepard Fairey’s statement. Krebs is a Los Angeles based street artist who is widely known for creating art that was used on the cover of the Rage Against the Machine album titled The Battle of Los Angeles. The Phantom Street Artist told me that he and others close to him feel that Shepard Fairey is “buying status and staking claim in a world that refuses to recognize him.” Krebs then told me, "The media does not represent the voice of the street. It represents the money of those who want to be recognized on the street.". He went on to say that Fairey is, “privileged, self entitled and self consumed.”
The Phantom Street Artist then mentioned that he would like to “challenge” Shepard Fairey-- stating, “I want to challenge his point of view, his beliefs and his values in a dual of sorts. I want to challenge him physically, mentally, and perceptually.“ Krebs then told me, “This is the chance for him to win the character approved award by his colleagues-- true street artists. The challenge match is a physical as well as a conceptual performance.”
I then asked the Phantom Street Artist if he felt that Shepard Fairey would take a risk. The Phantom responded, “There is no risk if you do not risk yourself. This is not a game of perception being managed and defined by publicist and public relations officers. These money fed publicists failed to realize that media is nothing other then the perception of opinion formed in management.” He then shared a video with me in order to stress how real street artists view Shepard Fairey and his art:
All City Crew - Art Basel Miami 2008 from fi5e on Vimeo.
Susan Dackerman failed to ask questions of importance concerning the span of Shepard Fairey’s career. After all, Obama and the influence that Obama had on Fairey’s art is only a recent part of Fairey’s history as an artist. She failed to obtain answers to the questions demanded by the small crowd of copyright supporters outside the ICA. She failed to obtain answers concerning the low opinion that many street artists have of Shepard Fairey. She failed to answer questions that honestly reflect the history of Shepard Fairey’s art. She failed at her task and Shepard Fairey failed to make a stand.
I suppose you could say that Shepard Fairey had answered in the only way he knows how before the opening. After all, Shepard Fairey and his crew ’bombed’ sites around Boston. Street works by Shepard Fairey can be found in both legal and illegal spaces near the ICA. Fairey has stated that he considers the street context of his art to be a crucial aspect of the art that is currently being shown at the ICA. Unfortunately, the street artist who says that people should “question everything” did not allow questions from the Q&A audience. Shepard Fairey failed to answer the questions that so many people have asked or demanded from him.
Some reporters are commenting on how Shepard Fairey appeared calm and collective at the Q&A session and the opening of the exhibit. Some have went as far as to suggest that Fairey is not showing signs of worry concerning copyright infringement allegations or mass criticism of his art and ethics of his practice that has taken place online in recent weeks. However, Shepard Fairey did address issues of plagiarism and copyright infringement days before the opening with the help of some of his associates and the Internet.
A few days ago a commenter tipped me off about an article concerning Shepard Fairey, copyright infringement, appropriation and Mark Vallen’s 2007 critique of Fairey’s art. The article, titled 'The Medium is the Message: Shepard Fairey and the Art of Appropriation', was posted on SuperTouch by J O’Shea-- Jamie O'Shea for those who don't know. The article by O'Shea is critical of Vallen's criticism concerning Shepard Fairey. A link to Jamie O’Shea’s article was posted on Fairey’s ObeyGiant website within minutes of it being published online by SuperTouch.
Before I go any further I want to make it clear that I do not agree with every view that Mark Vallen has concerning Shepard Fairey-- or art for that matter. However, it makes since that Jamie O’Shea, the editor of Super Touch, would support Shepard Fairey considering that Shepard Fairey is listed as an author on SuperTouch. It should also be noted that Jamie O’Shea has followed Fairey’s career extensively-- and has also curated and co-curated art exhibits involving the artist.
Jamie O’Shea started his criticism of Mark Vallen’s article by stating, “As underground art phenomenon SHEPARD FAIREY’s first major museum retrospective prepares to open at the INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART/BOSTON on February 6th, we feel the need to address some of the vicious and unfounded rumors surrounding the originality of Shepard’s artwork that have been floated online in recent years.”. O’Shea suggested that criticism of Shepard Fairey by Mark Vallen and other “detractors” is nothing more than a smear campaign against Fairey-- stating that a, “widespread and baseless internet campaign to smear Shepard Fairey has been going on for some time now“. In other words, O’Shea suggests that mass criticism of Shepard Fairey is nothing more than a smear campaign against the artist. Paranoia or damage control? You be the judge. Calm or worried? Again, you be the judge.
Links of Interest:
Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey: A critique by artist Mark Vallen
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE: SHEPARD FAIREY AND THE ART OF APPROPRIATION by Jamie O’Shea -- SuperTouch
Jamie O'Shea Obeys Shepard Fairey by Taking Jabs at Mark Vallen by Brian Sherwin -- Myartspace Blog
More Links of Interest:
ICA Boston Presents First Museum Survey of Street Artist Shepard Fairey -- Artdaily
Shepard Fairey Talks Obama, Plagiarism and Capitalism at ICA by Ryan Weaver -- Bostonist
Barack attack: Street artist Shepard Fairey’s portrait of Obama opens doors to ICA exhibit by Martin Caballero -- Boston Herald
Art Law Professionals weigh-in on Associated Press Copyright Infringement Allegation Against Shepard Fairey by Brian Sherwin -- Myartspace Blog
Take care, Stay true,