This is not the Mad Biologist
Or how the Boston Phoenix proves they missed the point of Shepard Fairey’s work (Fairey made the iconic Obama poster). I’ll get to that in a moment, but Sunday, I went to the ICA in Boston to see the Shepard Fairey exhibit. For me, it was a blast from the past: I was in Providence when the whole Andre the Giant thing started (I still have a sticker from that time). It was also funny to watch (discretely) a middle-aged–to be generous–docent explain to similarly aged visitors about Andre having a posse. Ironic proto-skaterpunk anarchism wasn’t really crossing the generational divide too successfully.
But that’s not what this post is about. As you might know, Shepard Fairey was arrested on the way to the opening night exhibit on outstanding vandalism charges.
In response, the Boston Phoenix, a corporate sponsor of the Fairey exhibit, fired a scathing broadside against the Boston Police Department (who very well might have done this to embarrass Mayor Menino), as well as the inhabitants of Back Bay. This is where the editorial went off the rails (italics mine):
The Back Bay Association is firmly against anything new, such as the strikingly handsome Apple building on Boylston Street. The group has little respect for free speech and free expression, regularly campaigning to keep news boxes off even commercial streets. Their group mentality is similar to the one that used to call for books written by the likes of James Joyce and Allen Ginsberg to be banned in Boston. Rooted in a gated-community mentality, they would be better off living in a sun-belt suburb.
Keep this in mind. Now, this from Fairey’s “Obey Manifesto” (italics mine):
The PARANOID OR CONSERVATIVE VIEWER however may be confused by the sticker’s persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions. Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.
It is odd that a sponsor would critique people for trying to make public spaces less commercial (and, to its credit, Back Bay has a lot of regulations which try to prevent the neighborhood from being turned into a giant billboard). After all, the Apple Store, where form is definitely not following function, is a four-story, see-through Apple advertisement. No commodification there.
And, of course, newspaper boxes–and the Boston Phoenix is a commercial newspaper–are also a commercial use of a public space. I guess it makes it easier to rationalize inconsistency when you drape your business model in the First Amendment.
Oh well. At least they used their money to bring some interesting art to Boston….