On Friday, the ICA opened its newest show “Supply & Demand,” the first ever museum survey of Shepard Fairey, and it cannot be denied — the city of Boston and its Institute of Contemporary Art are celebrating him. Since last Autumn, a dozen or more “Obey” murals have been installed by Mr. Fairey throughout our fair city, with his signature symbolism, imagery, and color-scheme of black, red, and cream bringing life to winter-blighted Boston. The largest of these public art pieces was unveiled Wednesday — an enormous 1,000 sq. ft. banner titled “Peace Goddess” — hung from the North side of Boston’s City Hall. The unveiling was completed with a photo-op handshake between Mr. Fairey and Boston’s Mayor Menino. But the ICA is not to be outdone by the rest of the city in showing its support of Mr. Fairey — Boston’s newest museum has adorned itself with OBEY in ways not yet seen at the ICA. Mr. Fairey’s show sets a precendent in the art world as being the first major museum exhibition by a street artist. He has brought the outside in and underground street culture into the mainstream.
When approaching the ICA, viewers can notice a huge version of the very recognizable black and white face of Andre the Giant, made famous by Mr. Fairey, emblazoned across a roof structure on the South side of the ICA. Once inside, Boston Phoenix newspaper boxes — so over-stickered and over-stenciled with Obey imagery that their original purpose is almost indeterminable — greet visitors. After a quick stop at the coat check and a ride in the massive ICA elevator, guests arrive at the galleries.
Stepping out of the elevator on the 4th floor of the ICA, Andre the Giant greets patrons in about the same manner that pedestrians and passersby were introduced to the image in their own daily lives throughout the 90’s — with a large, imposing, black and white grid of Andre faces. The wall of posters almost resembles a fence or gate, challenging visitors to cross the threshold. Once inside, it’s evident that the show is not organized chronologically but instead is grouped by unique themes in each room, ranging from “Stylized” and “Music” — which showcase Shepard Fairey’s take on pop culture icons — to “Question Everything,” showing the many vehicles and mediums used to proliferate his message. Other themes of the exhibition include “Portraiture,” “Propaganda,” and “Hierarchies of Power.” The exhibit spans the artist’s 20-year career, giving visitors a very close, inside-look at how Mr. Fairey’s message and imagery have slowly evolved, becoming more and more intellectualized. The attention to detail evident in the curatorial work (no aspect or experiment of the artist’s career has been over-looked) is enough to impress even the non-fan.
Highlights of the show include a wall of skateboards designed by Shepard Fairey; a final room featuring a wall of 90 Obey prints and a gigantic installation created specifically for the ICA; and many “artifacts” from Mr. Fairey’s career, including the very first “Andre the Giant has a Posse” sticker and the very first Andre stencil, which displays a handwritten note from Fairey’s college roommate with directions on how to reheat some leftover enchiladas; a wall of Ruby Lithe stencils (the original stencils hand-cut by Mr. Fairey to create his silkscreens); and several plastic stencils, originally used in the streets and now caked with black spray paint.
If Mr. Fairey’s now iconic print of President Obama was your first introduction to the prolific street artist, this timely exhibit serves as a formal introduction to the man who legitimized the illegitimate. Curated by Pedro Alonzo, a longtime friend of Mr. Fairey’s, the show features an impressive selection of the artist’s body of work. Most of the pieces are on loan from the Fairey and his studio, with a few exceptions, including one piece from US cyclist Lance Armstrong. “Supply & Demand” is on view at the ICA Boston until August 16, 2009.