It’s been a big week in the art and design community here in Chicago, with the Artropolis 2011 art show running down the street from JB Chicago headquarters at the Merchandise Mart. The three elements of the show consist of Art Chicago, the long-running event featuring international modern artists; NEXT, a series of exhibitions showcasing emerging artists; and the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair, which features the wares of over 100 antiques dealers from around the world.
In town for the event was one of the most prominent figures in graphic design in recent years. Shepard Fairey, creator of the image that defined the 2008 Presidential campaign, the iconic and ubiquitous propaganda-style poster that helped imbue Obama’s candidacy with the street artist’s fresh and progressive spirit. In January, 2009 the multi-media stenciled image was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for it’s National Portrait Gallery.
At the opening of the Artropolis 2011 last Thursday, April 28, visitors to the exhibit were greeted by downtempo and dub beats at the entryway of the massive showroom hall, selected and spun by none other than Shepard Fairey himself. It wasn’t long before the artist was mobbed with art aficionados, dealers, buyers, and well-wishers (we counted ourselves in the final category), but we did get a chance to shake the hand of the guy who did in a big way what we in the world of design fundamentally intend to do— influence perceptions in the blink of an eye.
A few days later, Fairey was once again in the news when the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets reported the appearance of a new contribution to the prominent pedestrian sections in Chicago, the lakefront walkway to Navy Pier.
With this move, the designer nods to both his history as a street artist as well as his new stature and recognition within the most prestigious institutions in art. Having not exhibited any work, streetwise or other, in Chicago since plastering his highly visible Andre the Giant prints in odd places throughout the cityscape in 2003, Fairey’s short stay here over the weekend was expansive. Sightings of his art ranged from the side of a tattoo shop in the South Loop:
to the intersection of Milwaukee and Grand Ave. that we bicycle past during our commute to JB headquarters:
As it seems we can’t turn a corner without being faced with one of Fairey’s images these days. We’ve got to admire his ubiquity and ability to advertise himself and his work so conspicuously everywhere we go, from the halls of art museums to the street.
—by Brenda L. Intengan