The “Stop Work Order” posted on the Fairey mural at Houston & the Bowery. (photo via

Just when the world thought Shepard Fairey had sold-out for the sanctioned art world, the New York Times confirmed that the New York City Department of Buildings “issued a stop-work order and an Environment Control Board violation this weekend to Elizabeth Houston Associates, the owner of a building on Houston Street near the Bowery on which Mr. Fairey recently installed a mural connected with his show at Deitch Projects in Soho.”

First spotted by the Animal New York blog, the Times reported that the violation may cost the artist and his people $25,000 in fines. Considering Fairey’s past legal problems, is probably right to assume that “one would think that by now Shepard Fairey would have a lawyer on retainer.”

Does that mean Fairey gets some of his “street cred” back?

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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 “May Day” Mural Is Illegal”

    1. The funny (and byzantine) thing about the way illegal street art & advertising is policed in New York is that illegal ads are fined by the Dept. of Buildings, while illegal street art is policed by the NYPD’s Vandal Squad. The former is much more Mickey Mouse (and the fines less severe) than the latter. This is not an indictment of the people of who work at the Dept of Buildings, since they are probably overworked and underpaid like most gov’t inspectors, but it does seem like corporations get away with things a lot more than individuals (who risk jail time), even when they are doing the same thing (or worse).

  1. I’d say that he gets some street cred if he doesn’t or can’t pay the fines, which I doubt is the case.

    It’s an interesting thing that the governmental agencies have to complain about something nobody really has a problem with and many people actually like. And what is Fairey doing without a lawyer? Even common criminals have lawyers. Street art was built on illegality, and you’d think that part of the fight for street art is the legal one. Fairey might be one of the few people who could help get street art some institutional cred, and he’s wasting his clout by avoiding the legal issues such as finding out beforehand if he’s about to do something illegal.

  2. i thought deitch had run of this wall- they even have security posted there- is there any chance this stop work order is false?

  3. I just read this at Wall Street Journal online-

    “The buildings department said the owners did not have a permit to erect a structure in the area and that the mural violated zoning laws prohibiting advertising on the property.”

    Notice the word ADVERTISING!

  4. First, I would be very surprised if Fairy does not have a legal team on retainer. He owns multiple successful businesses and has dealt with these issues through out his career. Second, this wall has been used before to promote shows in this same gallery. I am curious if permits were obtained in these instances. I would be surprised if Fairy did know what he needed. So ultimately, not gaining the permit in order to buck the system would just be stupid not credible.

    1. While the mural has been used by Deitch Projects artists, I think this is the first time it has been so directly tied into an exhibition (the name of the show is even on the wall). That may have attracted the attention of the Dept. of Buildings.

      1. it says in the post today that the city views the mural as an advertisement and not art.

        1. The strange this is that if you’re a street artist and make money selling your art, then technically anything you put up on the street is a form of advertising. Definitely a gray area but this is less so because it obviously advertises his show crosstown.

  5. Shepard fairey works are being dissed because he isnt from the streets, many graffiti writers take offense to this. He is trying to portray his art as a street accepted, when in fact he is not, many graffiti artist go to jail for a year first time being caught. This guy can simply line up walls with his wheat paste art and never get fucked with. That aint graffiti, it aint street and will forever be dissed. When this guy stops using graffiti as his medium the attacks will stop!

    He is taking one of the most pure art forms and sh!>&ing on it

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