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Is it Fine Art, Street Art, Pop Art, Graphic Design or all of the above?
This Sunday’s Boston Globe ran a front page story on the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, highlighted by the recent Shepard Fairey show running through the end of August. I saw this show recently and was blown away. Not only by his unique style, but by grandeur of the work and the amount of artwork the man has produced. I found it refreshing and inspiring. Never having seen any of his work previously, I was surprised that when I left the parking lot and drove throughout the city, I could see his work adorning buildings, construction sites, as well as decals on street signs.
He was brought to national attention with his Obama “Hope” series (which you can see at the show) and received thanks from President Obama crediting Fairey with helping spread his message. And I’ll bet there isn’t a Facebooker or Twitterer out there who hasn’t come across a profile picture which has been digitally morphed into the Shepard Fairey “Hope” style. There have even been copies of this style as seen in the Bob “Hope” piece by Mark Schruntek.
This is the kind of work that fascinates me. I have never been a fan labels myself (ie. is it Impressionism, Dadaism, Cubism…what kind of ism is it?). This work seems to hit on all frequencies. From commercial work (skateboard designs, CD covers, book covers, etc.), to street art on buildings and decals, to popular culture (Facebook and Twitter), to art for art’s sake.
There were mixed reviews of his work. Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight called Fairey a “talented designer’’ who “possesses a limited pictorial vocabulary, while the grandest curatorial claims made for the nearly 250 examples in the galleries are unsupportable.’’ And Alex Jacobson, a Boston-based writer and artist, has grumbled about the big-name shows. “Then you come to the Shepard Fairey. It’s this repetition of artists people can associate with, things the lay viewer can say, ‘Yeah, I get it.’ But that kind of work is often simplistic and missing the point of a lot of contemporary art.’’ While other praised it. Gallery NAGA director Arthur Dion said, “The Shepard was the real surprise for me. I had dismissed the show before going, and I was really startled and impressed.’’
I liked the public opinion myself. Tara Oremus, 33, who lives in the South End said, “I thought the Fairey show would be a perfect inspiration for the kids. It’s great for them to see street art recognized in such a way.
Whether you love him or hate him the numbers don’t lie. The Boston Globe article stated that no show has had more impact than the current 250-plus-piece exhibition of work by the controversial street artist Fairey. Just last month, attendance passed 105,000, making it the most popular show in the ICA’s 73-year history. The ICA has logged a record-setting 267,773 in attendance this fiscal year vs. 10 years ago in their old location at only 19,812.
You be the judge. I urge you, if you have a free afternoon, go see the show at the new ICA in Boston before it ends in August. If not for the show, just go to see the fantastic architecture of the new building.