Shepard Fairey, the Los Angeles-based street artist behind the red, white, and blue Obama campaign image that swept the globe-is the subject of an exciting new exhibition organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
. The 20-year retrospective, the first solo show of the artist's work, explores the breadth of Fairey's career. In addition to the now iconic Obama poster, the exhibition includes approximately 200 works, ranging from Fairey's renowned Obey Giant stencil to screen prints of political revolutionaries and rock stars, to recent mixed-media works and a major new commission for the ICA. Pedro H. Alonzo, a longtime champion of Fairey's work in the U.S. and Europe, is the ICA's guest curator of the exhibition. In complement to the exhibition, Fairey will be creating public art works at sites around Boston. Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand opens Feb. 6 and runs through Aug. 16, 2009. The exhibition is accompanied by an expanded, special edition of Supply & Demand, the retrospective publication of the artist's work.
"Shepard Fairey's powerful and varied body of work has reached into all aspects of our visual culture, from political posters to T-shirts and album covers, and now museum installations," says Jill Medvedow, Director of the ICA/Boston. "His integration of design, popular culture, and politics places him in the current of artistic and cultural forces that shape our world today."
"The content of Fairey's work is a call to action about hierarchies and abuses of power, politics and the commodification of culture," says exhibition curator Pedro Alonzo. "Fairey is committed to creating work that has meaning for his audience-by using familiar cultural iconography that people can relate to and by constantly bringing his work into the public sphere."
Fairey gained international recognition in the early 1990s with his Obey Giant campaign, seen on streets around the world on countless stickers and posters that Fairey produced and disseminated. Since then, Fairey has created works of art of all types-on the street, as part of commercial collaborations, and, increasingly, for gallery presentation. Fairey has broken many of the spoken and unspoken rules of contemporary art and culture. Working as a "fine" artist, commercial artist, graphic designer and businessman, Fairey actively resists categorization. Through the Obey project, he has created a cultural phenomenon, but more importantly, a new model of art making and production. He builds off precedents set by artists such as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, as he disrupts expectations about art and business, and muddies the distinctions between fine art and commercial art.
Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand features work in a wide variety of media: screen prints, stencils, stickers, rubylith illustrations, collages, and works on wood, metal and canvas. These works reflect the diversity of Fairey's aesthetic, displaying a variety of influences and references such as Soviet propaganda, psychedelic rock posters, images of Americana, and the layering and weathering of street art. While his provocative imagery draws in his audience, Fairey uses his work as a platform to make statements on social issues important to him. The artist explains his driving motivation: "The real message behind most of my work is 'question everything.'"
This landmark exhibition, co-curated by guest curator Pedro Alonzo and Emily Moore Bouillet, former assistant curator at the ICA, examines prevailing themes in Fairey's work. "Propaganda," "Portraiture," and "Hierarchies of Power" look at the many ways the artist urges critical thinking about the images that surround us, whether advertising, portraits of heroes, or symbols of wealth and power. In the works grouped under "War and Peace," Fairey, responding to recent U.S. military operations, reveals the many faces of conflict. "Stylized" investigates Fairey's Warhol-like blurring of popular culture and fine art, while "Music" illustrates some of the artist's earliest cultural influences. "Question Everything" presents the myriad forms and vehicles for the artist's work, whether stickers, large-scale murals, or framed work on gallery walls.
Shepard Fairey was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1970 and currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He received a BA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1991. He has had recent solo exhibitions at White Walls Gallery, San Francisco (2008); Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles (2007); Jonathan Levine Gallery, New York (2007); Stolen Space, London (2007); and Galerie Magda Danysz, Paris (2006). His work is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. Fairey is also the founder of Studio Number One, a graphic design company.