Perfect storm unleashed: a Fairey story

fairey-obama-posterThe recent addition of a painted version of Shepard Fairey’s portrait of President Barack Obama into the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery represents a perfect storm for the American art world, an “extreme situation created by a rare convergence of several forces.”

It’s perfect in that the poster provides an ideal representation of contemporary art. Here’s why:

First, It’s stolen. The portrait, a mixed-media stenciled collage that depicts Mr. Obama above the word “hope,” was created by Fairey utilizing an image he obtained off the Internet, an Associated Press photograph taken in April 2006 by Manny Garcia on assignment for the AP.  Fairey breaks the rules.

It required little artistic skill to create. The portrait is a mixed-media stenciled collage.

It’s democratic. Anybody could’ve done it.  The image was pulled from the Internet.

It’s viral. The poster gained notoriety and an international audience through the Internet.  The ”grassroots” image spread virally, with the Obama campaign selling prints of the poster on its Web site.  The image has spread to cover t-shirts and mugs.

It’s commercial. Fairey has cashed in with his graffiti street art.

It’s ephemeral. This isn’t great or important art we’re talking about.

Finally, It’s political.  Fairey’s a street artist from the skateboarding scene, known for his “André the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign.  His success is due to his use of themes that are politically and socially charged.

Fairey’s poster is a perfect example of contemporary art. Further, the forces that shape the contemporary art world have converged into a storm, a tempest, a veritable tornado, that have lifted and deposited the poster, much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, into the National Portrait Gallery, a mirror of the national zeitgeist.

What does it say about America and its art, if Fairey’s portrait captures the mood of the nation?  Should Americans aspire to a greater image, a more powerful icon?  One that is not stolen, ephemeral, commercial?  Or does Fairey call it fairly as it is?

For another view of the art of Shepard Fairey, visit Slow Muse here.

For an insightful article on ObamArt, read Sharon Butler’s essay, Moving Beyond ObamArt.

Valentine’s Day UPDATE: 

Check out  The Obama Art Report  blog that provides:

“daily reporting on the world of Barack Obama artwork, prints and auctions.”  Includes material about Robert Indiana’s reworking of his “Love” artwork into a “Hope” sculpture, Shepard Fairey’s Obama posters, and the temporary change of a San Francisco street sign from Bush Street to Obama Street on the morning the inauguration in 2009.”


~MadSilence to&w

Six Tips to Preserve Your Election Collectibles

faireyobamaposter1Across the nation, Americans are saving newspapers, posters, buttons, and bumper stickers to commemorate the historic election and inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first African American president. Anne-Imelda M. Radice, Director of the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), encourages citizen-collectors to make sure that their presidential inauguration collections will be preserved long into the future.

“The election day newspaper – cared for properly — will still be there years from now to remind us and future generations of this singular moment in American history,” Radice said. “This is a great time to raise awareness of the need to protect election and inauguration-related items from common threats such as high temperature, humidity, and light exposure.”

Follow these simple preventive steps to keep your treasures safe and sound for the next generation…

Via ResourceShelf

To learn more about election collectibles and political campaign memorabilia, go here.

For more advice on managing your collections and preserving your collectibles, including Books, Ceramics & Glass, Paintings, and Paper and Ephemera, go  here

Myartspace Blog offers an interesting discussion of copyright issues surrounding Shepard Fairey’s image of President Barack Obama titled ’Hope’ (above)  at:  Shepard Fairey: Obey Copyright.


Can YOU do Mondrian, Crumb, Warhol, Picasso?

Former NYS Governor Mario Cuomo
Former NYS Governor Mario Cuomo

Fourteen years after leaving the New York State governor’s office, Mario M. Cuomo is still refusing to sit for his official portrait.  The former governor, in an interview with The New York Times, suggested he found the whole idea pompous. He also said he had no patience for posing: “I went to electric razors so I would not have to look at myself in the morning.”  

Here’s a picture of Cuomo via the DMI BLOG:       


The front page of today’s New York Times offered four portraits of Cuomo (above), created by illustrator Thomas Fuchs, in the signature styles of Piet Mondrian, R. Crumb, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso.

Interestingly, the newspaper has invited readers to create their own portraits of any of NYS’s governors, Mr. Cuomo included, using their imaginative powers. 

To submit a portrait, e-mail your electronic image (in a common format like TIFF, JPG or PDF) to by noon on Thursday, Dec. 4. Please include the name of the governor, an explanatory note about the artistic style or method, and, if you like, give it a title.  


What do you think? Palin effigy as art

By now  all our readers should be familiar with the controversy surrounding a self-proclaimed conceptual artist whose West Hollywood Halloween display includes a mannequin dressed as Sarah Palin hanging from a noose.

If not, read about it here or here or here.

Such a display  raises the perennial issues of free speech and good taste that surround Halloween displays which I won’t discuss now. Nor the transparent attempt by Chad Michael Morisette to gain notoriety and his 15-minutes of fame.

What I find distasteful  is that Morisette identifies himself as an artist, indeed as a conceptual artist, as if this label can explain away and forgive a multitude of cultural and aesthetic sins.

Granted, conceptual art has always courted controversy, starting when Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal with the pseudonym “R Mutt” and called it art. There was genius to his madness as Duchamp used his creation to challenge the avant-garde modernists of the early 20th century by questioning the very nature of art and the creative process.

Morisette’s display is a pale shadow of the work of our modernist ancestors and mediocre compared to their brilliant creations. He takes a dressmaker’s dummy & some rope to fashion an object guaranteed to garner comment and controversy. There’s no subtlety, originality or intellectual challenge nor aesthetic value.

Morissete’s mannequin as art does have one redeeming value.  Conceptual art should transmit a well-crafted message and the message broadcast here is clear, although it speaks more of a greedy, pretentious and patronizing attempt to gain attention than to communicate a message worth listening to.

I like to believe  that the art world is maturing beyond its ill-conceived love affair with poorly crafted conceptual art.

What do you think?


7 Things Never to Say in an Art Gallery

David Katz discusses How To Buy Art in a November 2004 article in Esquire Magazine.  At the end of this hilarious article he provides advice on what not to say when shopping for art:

1.  “How long do I have to look at this thing before the secret message emerges?”
2.  “Interesting, interesting. It’s a skosh Pollocky, with a Jasper Johnsy aftertaste.”
3.  “How much for just the frame?”
4.  “My nephew does similar work. He’s two.”
5.  “Does that mean I can pay in conceptual dollars?”
6.  “I shot Andy Warhol. No, seriously.”
7.  “Do you have this in a medium?”

I do enjoy Katz’s humor.  And here are 7 things to always say & do in an art gallery, museum, exhibition or show.  Courtesy of MadSilence.

1.  Most importantly, say something! I’ve been to many art galleries in Chelsea where the visitors walk through in studied silence.  Gallery staff is often delighted to speak with someone who asks intelligent questions.
2.  Be quiet and listen. Yes, I know, I previously criticized silence.  But silence can also be good.  Give the art the quiet attentiveness it deserves.  And when you ask questions, be sure to listen attentively, quietly and respectfully, for the answers.  Don’t try to stick in your two-cent’s worth, demonstrating the depth & breadth of your art world knowledge & familiarity with the terminology.  Listen well.
3.  Be candid. You’ll be surprised how refreshing it can be. Be open about your emotional response to the work.  Just remember in your frankness to…
4.  Be kind. Be pleasant and generous in your praise.
5.  Be respectful. You may not appreciate their art but they’ve often worked hard & long at it.
6.  Be interested. Why does the artist work in tempera instead of watercolor?  Why is there canvas that size?  What are they trying to portray with that form, color and image?
7.  Be there. Make sure to visit art galleries, museums, exhibitions & shows.  Often.  The only way to learn about art & develop an experienced palette is to experience art in the flesh.

Rochelle Feinstein’s Love Vibe #2 (1999–2000) works the gap between what is said about a work and what is understood.  Image via ARTnews.

New York City-based artist Gail Gregg provides advice on How To Talk to an Artist in a article published in ARTnews.  Gregg informs her article by asking members of the art world for their comments.  She starts with a few examples of what not to say and then addresses the question, So what do you say?

First, realize that even the experts—dealers, curators, other artists—make their own faux pas. Painter Michelle Stuart was visited a number of years ago by a dealer who “buzzed around my studio and told me, ‘I have two sensitives already.’ Then he left!” A Chelsea dealer asked Shari Mendelson during a recent visit to her sculpture studio, “So can you tell me the social, historical, and political implications of your work?” And Rick Briggs vividly recalls another artist commenting that his own work was “about ideas”—in contrast, supposedly, to Briggs’s abstract paintings.

Often, being quiet in front of a work is the best response; it indicates that you’re looking carefully and are thinking about what you’re seeing. When you consider that it can take weeks, months—even years—to make an art object, looking hard is a respectful thing to do. “I appreciate people who have obviously been moved by my work and just want to get a sense for who I am,” says painter Art Zoller-Wagner. “Sometimes they don’t ask a question; they’re just relating.”

Open-ended questions are also welcomed: Who influences you? Why do you work at this scale? Why did you start painting patterns? are questions painter Vicki Behm likes to hear. Joanne Mattera prefers such queries as, How do you know when a series is finished? She says, “the question lets me talk about, in general, why I work in series, and, in particular, how a series developed from painting to painting and what catalyzed its completion.” And Rachel Willis adds that a simple “‘How did you make that?’ would be fine too.”

Feinstein’s favorite comment came from a viewer contemplating her in-your-face “love your work” installation. “I love your work,” offered the viewer—who then caught herself and exclaimed, “Oh, no. Now I can’t say that, can I?” She completely understood the intent of the pictures, Feinstein realized: “That I really appreciated.”

Gallery partner Jenny Liu, of New York’s The Project, notes that artists tend to fall into two camps: “creative originators who are inspired to make original and authentic sculpture/painting/drawing” and those who consider themselves “art producers along more intellectual lines.” To artists of the first category, a thoughtful visitor might say, “Your work is so passionate/emotional/sad. Where does that come from?” To the second: “Your work is so rigorous/difficult/challenging. What are you hoping to accomplish?”

Technology-based artist Patrick Lichty appreciates audiences that challenge his ideas. “Where do you get off?” is a question he likes. “I believe that learning often happens through disagreement,” he says. Conceptual artist Rachel Perry Welty agrees: “The best question would be one that helps me think more deeply about the work and makes me see connections I hadn’t, or puts it into a broader context. I wish someone would dare ask me, ‘Why do you do what you do?’” And for some, such as installation artist Ann Hamilton, the same question can qualify as both worst and best. “What does the horsehair mean?” is one that she has long remembered.

In an informal survey of artists, certain questions were big winners:

Can I see more?
Would we be able to acquire this piece for the Museum of Modern Art?
I love your work. Can I help sponsor and organize a big show for you?
Is this for sale? (Or its variant: Can I pay in cash?)
Can I be your patron (for life)?

Don’t take these questions literally.  What artists are saying is that they want to be viewed seriously, to have their efforts and ideas recognized, to have their work supported. It doesn’t take much to indicate that: a close look at the work, an open-ended question or two. Artists are communicators first and foremost, and when communication with a viewer happens, that is its own reward.

Not that paying cash wouldn’t be welcome.

Related links:
How to Talk to an Artist by Gigi Conot via ArtistResource
All You Ever Needed to Know About How to Talk to an Artist via


Presidential Pumpkins and more election humor

Presidential Pumpkin Pick via the online Better Homes & Gardens

“Cutting taxes and slashing the deficit sound great, but this time of year it’s a lot more fun to slice into a big orange pumpkin! Vote for your favorite candidate, then download one of our exclusive presidential and VP candidate stencils.  Poll results announced October 29.”

I’ve been looking for something to post on the presidential election and this just seems to fit the bill.  Topical and timely, facetious and crafty, the Better Homes & Garden pumpkin poll sounds a lighthearted note, reminding us not to get too serious.  BH&G requires you to register to vote. 

Desperately looking for more election humor?  Try looking here. 

Comedy Central: Indecision 2008  “A humorous take on the U.S. presidential campaign of 2008, from the Daily Show, a popular mock-news show on cable television hosted by comedian Jon Stewart.  ‘We’re to the news what malt liquor is to reality.’  From Comedy Central.”

The Onion: War for the White House   “This satirical publication’s coverage of the 2008 U.S. presidential election features ‘news’ stories, humorous candidate profiles and candidate statements on key issues, videos, and a creative description of the election process. From the Onion, which ‘is not intended for readers under 18 years of age.’ “

Best 2008 Campaign Humor   “Your one-stop source for the latest late-night jokes, political cartoons, spoof videos, quirky news, and other humor from the 2008 campaign trail.  From”



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