Radically unoriginal

Letters to the Boston editor, February 27, 2009
By BOSTON PHOENIX LETTERS  |  February 25, 2009

Greg Cook’s breathless description of “the hottest show in the nation right now” ignores a lot of troubling context in the Fairey phenomenon. Defending the artist against police persecution is admirable. However, hand-waving away any objections to the dishonest manner in which Fairey “channels the old radical chic” is not admirable in the least.

I’m sure Cook’s article was, in the print version, accompanied by Fairey’s portrait of Warhol in order to draw the parallel between these two artists. I’d like to point out that Fairey is doing the exact opposite of what people like Warhol did in the ’60s: instead of putting everyday images like Campbell’s soup cans on the canvas and celebrating their vapidity by pretending they had artistic value, Fairey is copying dissident artistic images, stripping them of their political meaning, and selling them as nothing more than cool pictures.

I’m not an expert in copyright law, so I can’t address the legal minutiae of Fairey’s appropriation of images. It’s clear, though, that the artist has no qualms about copying the imagery in obscure left-wing propaganda posters without attribution. The reason he uses these images is not because he finds worth in their messages (many of which were meant to inspire an illiterate populace to radical action), but because they resonate in the romantic fantasies of liberals who see nothing wrong with Fairey making a buck from them. It’s not as if Fairey wants to publicize the efforts of these little-known artists or contribute materially to their anti-capitalist causes. The most odious aspect of Fairey’s artistry isn’t the way he ignores the legal ramifications of fair use, it’s the way he mocks the radical intent of the artists whose work he plunders.

Steve Farrell

Arrested development
I’m all for art, self-expression, etc. But before you berate the police for arresting Mr. Fairey, you must first admit that he was wanted on failure to appear for summons, what, four times? Rembrandt, Klee, Dubuffet, or not, I would call that a simple scofflaw.

And why not nab the punk at the show? That way you can find the guy, and also make an example of him to other “purveyors” of “people’s art.”

Let’s face it, 99.44 percent of all wall scribblings are eyesores and visual pollution. The remainders are misplaced musings of vandals posing as misunderstood and self-anointed “artistes,” like your man. I would like to know what the Institute of Contemporary Art would do if its exterior walls were defaced by graffiti. Here’s a thought: “Quick, call maintenance!”

Ken Murphy

I understand the Phoenix would be upset that a person you were sponsoring for an exhibit at the ICA was arrested.

However, the issue here is simple: why should Shepard Fairey be treated differently than anyone else charged with a crime? Given your anger at his arrest, you might suggest that his lawyer argue the graffiti statute simply doesn’t apply to him.

Tom Shillinglaw

Related: Radical chic, Enter the matrix, Fabulous fakes, More more >
  Topics: Letters , Institute of Contemporary Art, Shepard Fairey, Arrested Development,  More more >
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