I've never been a fan of Shepard Fairey's work. Far from the rebellious, meta-critique of consumer culture that it is purported to be, Fairey's art strikes me as contrived, unoriginal and uninspiring. But when Fairey created the now iconic image of Obama for his presidential campaign, I was forced to briefly reconsider my opinion of him as an artist. Now, just days after the inauguration, as the country basks in the light of cultural transcendence, Fairey is exploiting whatever political cachet he may have built with the Obama poster for the purpose of championing mindless consumerism.
Now I remember why I don't like his work.
Fairey has partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue to create a Constructivist-inspired marketing campaign for the high-end retailer's Spring season. Appropriating the style of one of his favorite go-to artists, Alexander Rodchenko, Fairey is doing what he does best – recycling politically-charged imagery in a way that is completely devoid of meaning. Borrowing from the aesthetic of 20th century workers' rights movements, Fairey's designs depict models with raised fists "arming themselves" with designer handbags. "Want It!" scream shopping bags in the same bold, graphic style that artists emerging from the Russian Revolution used to encourage the overthrow of the old social order.
"Some people might think [this campaign] could be making fun of what's going on right now," Fairey told the New York Times. "But I think most people are sophisticated enough to realize it's a way of grabbing attention. It's commerce. I don't think there is really any political statement embedded in this." What Fairey is either unable or unwilling to acknowledge is that the overtly political feel of the Saks campaign serves to mock and undercut the genuine desire for change inspired by the Obama campaign.
In urging a newly introspective populace to WANT, to NEED and to BUY, Fairey is helping to promote the same bullshit mindset that got us into our current mess – the very thing that we finally have a real opportunity to overthrow. He couldn't have chosen a more cynical project.