ARTmonday: Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand


A few weeks ago I went to the press preview for the Shepard Fairey show at the ICA. I normally wouldn’t have gone – street art isn’t my thing. (Big surprise.) But I had an assignment for Lola magazine on the museum, and the timing worked out perfectly.

The overall museum experience, as always, was bliss. The vast white space, the expanse of glass overlooking the Boston Harbor on a snowy day. There was even swag – a Shepard Fairey tote. What’s not to like? The art.


To be fair, as an exhibit, it was aesthetically pleasing. Very orderly, graphic and color consistent. It’s all carefully manufactured, so expect nothing less.

As for the images on their own, after seeing a few, they’re all pretty much the same. Here’s the “now iconic” (as they never tire of saying) Obama portrait, and an amusing depiction of his charming predecessor:

barack bush


Fairey’s into images of other iconic, political, controversial, famous for being famous folk, like Andy Warhol, Mao, Lenin, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and of course AndrĂ© the Giant, whose image he displayed on a homemade sticker in ’88 as a student at RISD. He also fawns over music personalities; the exhibit includes portraits of Jim Morrison, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett, and David Bowie.

He said that morning: “I create portraits of people who made a very strong impact on me, but whom I am not necessarily aligned with.”

Fairey seems pretty chill, but it’s hard to tell. For a guy who’s become known for street art, i.e., graffiti, and who is constantly arrested, he’s also a corporate enterprise, with a thriving graphic design enterprise, plus a wife and kids. I can appreciate the graphic design and business aspect of his persona. The “artist” side, I’m not convinced.

The enormous murals in the exhibit are give more of a sense of a person behind the work. He says he works (or at least used to work) on sheets of old wallpaper. You can see the layers of the patterns, the newspaper, the ink. Here are a couple of details from larger works:


As a museum-worthy artist, I’m not sold. But now that I’m in on it, it’s fun to see the works plastered around the city. There’s a few on the side of a building at the ramp onto the Mass Pike at Mass Ave. and Newbury that I noticed immediately after attending the preview. The ICA is actually organizing bike tours around the city to see the on site works. You can see them on Flikr too. That’s probably all you really need.




Architecture: Modernist Enclaves in Lexington, Mass.

Everyone has a back up plan. The New York Times ran an article on Sunday called “What’s Your New Plan B?” It talked about folks who once upon a time dreamed of abandoning real life to run a B&B or some such idyll. But now we need real Plan Bs.

I live in Boston. City living (which is the only kind I can stomach) means paying exorbitant private school tuition for our kids. What if we couldn’t afford to do that anymore, and had to move to the suburbs?

Well, I’ve picked one out. I’m hoping it’s an academic exercise. I hate to drive. I think yards are overrated. I can’t stand when Girl Scouts ring my doorbell.

It’s Lexington, MA. There are two synagogues, academics and scientists rather than hedge fund managers galore, a symphony, a decent school system, and , this is what got me, an interesting architectural history.

Researching an article for the Boston Globe magazine (to be published Feb. 22), I learned that Lexington has nine modernist neighborhoods – more than anywhere else in the country. They were built by two groups, one led by Walter Gropius and the other by Walter Pierce. People adore these neighborhoods. Some residents are the original owners, dating back to 1954. Even Walter Pierce, now 88, still lives in the house he built in 1958.

From the outside, the houses are what some would call ugly. But they were revolutionary, and today’s developers could learn from them. The only trees that were cut for these 1,800 square foot houses were the ones that absolutely had to be cleared to make room for the house. This means nicely wooded lots. The houses could be turned this way or that, allowing flexibility in siting them, on ledges or whatnot. So houses are not lined up in Stepford Wife rows, all facing the street. There’s lots of glass so you can commune with nature. Community land was set aside, some with fields, streams, playgrounds, even pools. And they were affordable for young professional families.

Not the city, but not bad.