Fairey fallout


To the right’s delight, there’s been no shortage of knocks on President Obama’s “cult of personality” lately — from being rebuffed by the IOC to being mocked by SNL. That’s to say nothing of the Nobel prize pretty much no one thinks he deserves.

And now there’s this: that hugely iconic red and blue image of Obama — a bit of hope-imbued agitprop by street artist Shepard Fairey which, at least until the official one is commissioned, is effectively the unofficial non-photographic White House portrait — is now the subject of heated legal proceedings.

Because, as we all know, it is photographic (as based on a photograph), and it was revealed last week that Fairey fibbed about the provenance of the original, copyrighted photograph from which it’s derived. Not only that, but he destroyed evidence to cover-up and perpetuate his misdeed. The response? The Associated Press has filed new papers in its court case against Fairey, adding “purposeful deceit” to its initial copyright claim.

What could be the consequence of this? Bad stuff, says “art and law” blog Clancco. “There may ... be criminal sanctions — obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements come to mind. Or criminal contempt. The Department of Justice may find this of interest.”


So how does the President feel about having the portrait that helped launch him into the Oval Office tainted by these tangled legal proceedings? The White House had no comment when reached by the Phoenix.

One organization that did have a comment, though, was Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art, which, you’ll remember, held a huge Fairey retrospective earlier this year. ICA director Jill Medvedow supplied the Phoenix with the following statement.

"The ICA was honored to organize Shepard Fairey's first ever retrospective and to share two decades of his work with over 100,000 visitors in Boston. Shepard's creative style and energies have always drawn upon culture at large and reworked and transformed common elements into uncommon art and social commentary. Regarding the recent developments in his lawsuit with the Associated Press, it is always sad to see people you admire make a bad decision, but Shepard himself states that he made mistakes, and he has apologized for them. We would also remind people that the art itself, not least the famous "Hope" poster, remains powerful, relevant and a lens for many of the critical issues of the moment.”

In addition to the possible legal sanctions, its seems reasonable to say that Fairey’s ill-advised skullduggery has “only strengthened the image of artists as clowns and buffoons in the eyes of judges and lawyers,” as Clancco puts it.

The question now is whether or the not that image is cemented in the minds of other museum directors and curators. Fairey’s shenanigans probably haven’t done too much damage to his already shaky street cred, but it’s a safe bet that it’ll be a good while before his works are showcased again in any fancy museums.


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