Shepard Fairey: Supply & Demand

at the Andy Warhol Museum through January 31

Several of the pieces on display at the Warhol proudly proclaim "repetition works." Perhaps the organizers of this exhibition should have remembered a different maxim: "familiarity breeds contempt."

Let's face it, Shepard Fairey's work is slick, glib, and shallow. I don't mean this as an insult — his chosen method if dissemination makes those qualities virtues. When the goal is to attract the attention of a passing pedestrian or motorist, simple and direct is the best approach. When Fairey's art is experienced at this level repetition does work, with comprehension and appreciation setting in as individual pieces are gradually encountered over the course of days, weeks, months, years.

But these virtues can become flaws — the problem with "Supply & Demand" is that there is too much Shepard Fairey on display. Visitors are confronted with dozens of minor variations on the same shallow themes, when one or two examples might suffice. The completism on display is laudable but it does the work a disservice by constantly drawing attention to the constant repition of the same handful of motifs with little variation of the underlying message. (Fairey does occasionally try to make his work seem deeper by passing it off as a phenomenological experiment, but frankly his manifestoes read like pomo claptrap designed to impress grant committees. Or to get the culture cops on his side when he's eventually busted for vandalism.)

Fortunately, despite these flaws Shepard Fairey is an accomplished graphic artist and approaching his work from a design perspective can be extraordinarly rewarding. His current penchant for baroque orientalism is refreshing and can reward deep study. On the other hand, if you're unable to approach the work from this perspective you may find the show somewhat lacking.

"Shepard Fairey: Supply & Demand" is on display at the Andy Warhol Museum through January 31, 2010.

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