Jeffrey Deitch and Shepard Fairey are bros. (image via artinfo.com)

Now the Shepard Fairey, the man who gave us Hope and then made us Hope-less is weighing in on the Blu mural controversy and it’s rather embarrassing. The good part:

I’m not a fan of censorship but that is why I, and many of the other artists of the show, chose to engage in street art for its democracy and lack of bureaucracy …

However, a museum is a different context with different concerns. It would be tragic for the break through of a street art /graffiti show at a respected institution like MOCA to be sabotaged by public outcry over perceived antagonism or insensitivity in Blu’s mural. Graffiti is enough of a contentious issue already. The situation is unfortunate but I understand MOCA’s decision. Sometimes I think it is better to take the high road and forfeit a battle but keep pushing to win the war.

So, Fairey suggests people give up. It’s the museum world after all and [here’s the subtext] he’s been dying for acceptance for, like, ever, so don’t ruin this for him.

He’s not a “fan” of censorship, he’ll have you know. Where does he draw the line? We have no idea.

What’s your point, Fairey? What do you understand about MOCA’s decision? The fact that they commissioned a work and the director of the museum destroyed it after ignoring the opinions of the local community or even his fellow curators and then asked the artist “to openly agree with their decision to erase the wall“?

How about the whole bungled process? No harsh words for Deitch and MOCA? How about the fact that Deitch couldn’t be bothered to see a preliminary drawing before he jetted off to the Miami art fairs, or did he see it and then change his mind? Also, where are all the other curators in this show or are we to assume this is Deitch’s pet project and all decisions are solely his?

And what’s this war you’re talking about? The Iraq and Afghanistan wars that continues to kill Americans, civilians, and bankrupt our country? The possible war hinted at in Blu’s mural? Some fictional street art war you’ve waging in your head against some establishment who wants to keep you down? And this “take the high road” thing? Huh?

I think the public will actually respect street art more if they represent something and not roll over whenever someone gives them some attention or money. In the 1980s, street art and graffiti shows were rather safe. The whole movement was eventually doomed when it was repackaged as a style for mass consumption, and like all styles it went out of fashion.

If the street art community wants to have some staying power in the world then they will have to stand their ground to represent something. I think Blu was doing exactly that.

I am disturbed that Fairey doesn’t even address Blu’s work and what it represents. I predict that most people will ignore this statement and see it for what it is, an artist protecting his dealer/curator/bro.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

11 replies on “Shepard Fairey Scurries to Protect His Dealer/Curator”

  1. Just thinking. Hope you don’t smell the lentils burning from there, however, this censorship issue is getting so beaten down by art world generalities and specific interests that it begins to be an incestuous circus act. …

    I mean, I censor things all the time. I redact and edit my own statements [self-censorship] and I keep my children from seeing all kinds of things. There are things that I would not want to see on billboards too.

    While Blu’s work getting censored borders on the absurd, along with Shepard defending Deitch, there are things that require curation, choices, and choosing things by its very nature is going to include some and exclude others. Dollars on coffins is going to upset my children? No. I think it would generate some great discussion with my girls. However, the open display of violence or sexual acts on a public street is not something I am keen for my 5 and 7 year old to see. Nor do I want to see that unless I choose to see that in a specific art/culture/political context.

    I would like to see a shift in the debate from knee-jerk anti-censorship comments, to discussing what kind of things/artwork should be considered appropriate in what kind of contexts. Is it site-specific or can we apply generalities, and if so what are they?

      1. If you had kids you might feel otherwise… My point is that there are appropriate places for some work and inappropriate places for other work. Each work can find its own venue that works right for it. Work that uses as it main reference explicit porn or excessive violence is inappropriate in areas where they can be easily seen by children. I don’t think that is asking too much, seriously. You would find that difficult to comply with??

        1. Blu’s image hardly contains excessive violence, porn, or even anything explicit. The work is up to interpretation, but regardless, it’s a political image. If no politics are safe for some people’s children, I suggest keeping them in the house, far from (much more damaging and brainless) advertising. This is clever (if not smart) political satire.

          1. That was my point. I think it was a great mural. I said in my message “Dollars on coffins is going to upset my children? No. I think it would generate some great discussion with my girls.” … However, given the heightened interest in the “censorship” issue, I’d like to talk about appropriate venues for appropriate work. Blu’s work to me is innocuous, witty, clearly raises the issue, could be perceived as bad taste… but since when do we censor for bad taste… oh, maybe some do. That is where the discussion begins for me. Where CAN we find venues for work that is objectionable to people in certain contexts, not simply screaming … “no censorship!” … when it might even be a bit iffy if it was; even though it seems it clearly was. I want to get beyond the debate and be able to work within the reality of venues that may and will/would object to my work.

            Ironic how even the mention of stating what is already considered a norm, common understanding of appropriate public venues, that people cannot even assent to the need for self-censorship and the rights and needs of children.

  2. He’s not a “fan” of censorship, he’ll have you know. Where does he draw the line?

    He’s got censorship’s greatest hits, but he’s never gonna get around to picking up the b-sides comp.

  3. As if any more proof were needed that Shepard Fairey is nothing but a careerist selling rebellion in a box to rich white people… all the while using images of or taken by brown people without any credit, much less a share of the profits given.

  4. Not to sound totally jaded, but is this statement even Fairey’s own words, or some sunny LA PR person playing ventriloquist? The statement is so carefully crafted and every word choice feels calculated. There is nothing raw or real in his tone.

    Call me Soviet, but I think that what people say “in public” is boring, ideological and inauthentic. I do not judge any person by such carefully edited statements like this. I am too bitter. Under explicit or subliminal pressure, people issue statements that tow party lines everyday.

    Call me even more Soviet, but I will only judge someone by what he or she says to me privately over drinks. And preferably under vodka, it is the best truth serum of all.

    You can hate on Shepard for playing the game. But I think that it is the price of admission in today’s art world. Is he supposed to rise above it all and damage all of his relationships and ruin his career by telling it like it is? That’s a pretty heavy lift. Thank goodness, we have bloggers like you that can remind us of the truth and how hallow statements like this can ring.

    We live in a world that sadly punishes risky and bold statements – both in word and mural. I’m so over this anodyne, sanitized, and germ free world.

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