Shepard Fairey: Obama ‘Hope’ poster artist condemns ‘cancel culture’ as many are ‘fearful about having opinion’
Street art might have a reputation for being provocative and political but in the age of social media take-downs is the movement itself now starting to question what it can and can’t say?
According to world-famous street artist Shepard Fairey, “cancel culture is a problem”.
Speaking to Sky News, the activist and artist said: “I think a lot of people are fearful about having an opinion in their work that others might disagree with.
“Cancel culture is a problem in that people become fearful about what topics they think they are allowed to address and in what ways.”
Having flown in for the opening of Beyond The Streets London – billed as the most comprehensive graffiti & street art exhibition to open in the UK – Fairey’s work features heavily in the three storey take-over of the Saatchi Gallery alongside over 100 other artists, including Keith Haring and the Beastie Boys.
Perhaps best-known for his iconic 2008 Obama “Hope” poster, Fairey’s work has frequently incorporated imagery of important figures of our time – including the likes of Bob Marley and Martin Luther King.
“I have always made a lot of portraits of not just white people,” the American artist explains. “My point was that, you know, we’re all humans who deserve to be treated with dignity and representation matters… but there have been some people that have said to me ‘you’re a white person, you shouldn’t paint anything other than white people’.
“And I say, there’s a way to look at that as actually really narrow minded and exclusionary. Other people say ‘you’re exploiting someone else’s culture by trying to represent it through your work’ but I say, you know, this is all about a dialogue.
“If the art brings up a conversation that I think is constructive about who gets the spotlight and is allowed to talk about what issue, I’m fine to be part of that, but if the idea is that I need to not say anything because I’m a straight white male, I’m not going to listen to that.”
Today street art is a commercial juggernaut, shared on social media, courted by fashion houses – accessible, relatable and at its best subversive.
But as a movement that sets out to stick two fingers up to the establishment, its commercialisation can seem at odds with what street art stands for.
“The whole idea of, of selling out would be compromising your principles to pander to the lowest common denominator,” Fairey insists. “I don’t like to think about these narrow minded categories. I want to reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard.
“Street is where I did a lot of my early work because I had no other opportunities and I still work on the street, it’s a very important thing to me philosophically, but to me, it’s all about creative problem solving and hitting different audiences and as many different people as possible.”
Fairey says his commercial work gives him the freedom to make free works like murals and fund his activism.
“I like the do-it-yourself empowerment model and that requires figuring out how to make it successful in the capitalist world we live in without hopefully being corrupted by the bad forces within capitalism. I’m trying to navigate that very thoughtfully and be, you know, conscious within capitalism.”
A provocateur and proud, he’d like more artists to use their work to make a stand.
“Just look around, if the world looks exactly how you want it to look then then fine, make decorative stuff. If it doesn’t, maybe try to say something.”
Beyond The Streets London runs until 9 May at the Saatchi Gallery.
The 10 Best Booths at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2023
Interior view of Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Courtesy of Art Basel.
The prevailing thought on day one of Art Basel in Hong Kong 2023? So. Many. People. As the doors of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre opened for the first fully fledged edition of the global art fair since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the feeling was bright. International gallerists, artists, curators, and collectors were back in the city, and taking full advantage of Hong Kong’s better-late-than-never relaxation of social restrictions.
Just a 10-minute walk away from the fair at the Conrad Hong Kong hotel, Credit Suisse executives were doing their best to assuage a nervy audience at its investment conference—likely the last before its takeover by UBS—but on the familiar stomping grounds of the exhibition floor, the talk was for the most part positive, focusing on the social aspect of Art Week’s return: dinners, talks, shows, and parties.
The fair welcomed 177 galleries this year, down from its peak of almost 250, which made for (at least seemingly) wider thoroughfares and larger booths. The knock-on effect was evident, and galleries were able to show broader presentations that pull from across their respective rosters. The overall result was less overtly showy, but still occasionally overwhelming.
Alice Wang, installation view in Capsule Shanghai’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Courtesy of Capsule Shanghai.
The Discoveries sector—a hallway featuring 24 booths of solo presentations—provided a respite from this, with a number of well-considered single-artist shows. Roaming the fair grounds, artist and 2020 BMW Art Journey winner Leelee Chan—whose gallery Capsule Shanghai was showing a solo booth of work by Alice Wang in the section—was enjoying being a visitor, noting that this year’s presentations were particularly “brave.”
“Now that artists can actually come and install their own pieces [following the ‘satellite’ fairs of the last two years], galleries can really focus on bringing strong work,” she said.
If there had been any sense that Hong Kong’s strict travel guidelines—or its controversial national security law—had tempered the global jet set’s love affair with the city, leading to some of the usual galleries staying home (or worse, transferring their efforts to Seoul or Singapore), those fears seemed to be put aside for the day, with a “Hong Kong’s back, baby” attitude that seemed pervasive across all attendees.
Trevor Yeung, installation view of Mr. Cuddles Under the Eave, 2021, in Blindspot Gallery’s presentation at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Courtesy of Art Basel.
While some gallerists noticed a slower, wait-and-see approach to buying, after the first flush of institutional sales had been logged, most were in good spirits and enjoying the less frantic pace—and the fact that people seemed genuinely happy to see art. “It’s our first year participating in Hong Kong,” said SMAC Gallery’s director, Baylon Sandri. “We didn’t see any frenzied buying on opening day, but lots of genuine interest from institutions and private collectors—and then the sales started happening on Wednesday morning. People were engaging a lot, and engaging in a different ways. Overall, on a number of levels it feels so different to other fairs—it feels fresh, it feels optimistic and less anxious.”
Here are Artsy’s 10 favorite booths from the fair.
With works by Jordan Wolfson, Richard Serra, Bridget Riley, Josef Albers, Oscar Murillo, Yayoi Kusama, Elizabeth Peyton, Thomas Ruff, Al Taylor, and Ruth Asawa
Installation view of David Zwirner’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Courtesy of David Zwirner.
Blue-chip galleries often have the most hodge-podge booths at art fairs—big art world names, big works, and big collectors all mingling and jostling for attention. But David Zwirner’s dedication of considerable floor space to new works by Jordan Wolfson gives its booth something of a focal point, especially since that focal point features images of a chained-up cat sitting before a fortress of apples; or leather-clad gloves palming Catholic crosses juxtaposed with Spongebob, Scooby-Doo, and Fred Flintstone; or the large and sinister Red Sculpture (2016–22), which was snapped up in the first hour of the fair by Shanghai’s Long Museum.
The booth also features favorites from David Zwirner’s powerhouse line-up, including a number of restrained geometric works including Richard Serra’s The Wagons Roll at Night (2021), Bridget Riley’s Light Shade 7 (2018), and Josef Albers’s Study for Homage to the Square: From Within. Another early sale was Elizabeth Peyton’s Truffaut (2005) portrait, in her first time showing with David Zwirner since joining the roster from Gladstone.
With works by Chen Wei, Un Cheng, South Ho Siu Nam, Pixy Liao, Andrew Luk, Kristian Mondrup, Wai Kin Sin, Angela Su, Wang Tuo, Trevor Yeung, and Yeung Tong Lung
Installation view of Blindspot Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Photo by South Ho. Courtesy of the artists and Blindspot Gallery.
Having participated in the fair since it was known as Art HK, Blindspot Gallery has been something of a trailblazer in the local Hong Kong art scene, with a considered roster of regional darlings. This year, its booth holds a prime position at the entrance of the fair and is adjacent to a large-scale, attention-grabbing Encounters installation, Mr. Cuddles Under the Eave (2021). Made by one of its own artists, Trevor Yeung, it features large money trees suspended from a ceiling.
Other works on display in the booth include a video work by Turner Prize nominee Wai Kin Sin, as well as the artist’s signature “death masks” created from discarded make-up wipes; Andrew Luk’s jagged multimedia canvases approximating the texture of durian skin (and questioning the controversial laws surrounding this polarizing fruit); and South Ho Siu Nam’s haunting watercolor pencil drawings of Hong Kong city scenes circa 2019.
With works by Marc Desgrandchamps, Tim Eitel, Neo Rauch, Nicola Samori, Kai Schiemenz, Kristina Schuldt, and Raul Walch
Installation view of Galerie Eigen + Art’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Courtesy of Galerie Eigen + Art.
Gerd Harry Lybke, owner of the Berlin- and Leipzig-based Galerie Eigen + Art, was in a positively ebullient mood halfway through the first day of the fair: “Nicola Samori: all sold. Neo Rauch: all sold. Tim Eitel: all sold,” he told Artsy.
Commercial success aside, the gallery’s booth has an impressive mix of poetry and whimsy on show, including a floating mobile by Raul Walch; a translucent glass architectural sculpture from Kai Schiemenz; and a full wall featuring eight of Italian artist Nicola Samori’s dark, baroque figurative oil paintings—faces slashed and all.
With works by Haegue Yang, Ha Chong-hyun, Park Seo-bo, Gimhongsok, Suki Seokyeong Kang, Kyungah Ham, Jenny Holzer, and Candida Höfer
Installation view of Kukje Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Photo by Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy of Kukje Gallery.
While its sprawling installation by South Korean artist Gimhongsok on the upper floor of the fair is certainly an attention-seeker, most of the works in Kukje Gallery’s booth demand a closer, quieter inspection. The leading South Korean gallery brings top names of Korean descent to its presentation, alongside a smattering of global names such as Jenny Holzer and Candida Höfer.
These include a columnal rock sculpture from Gimhongsok; rope-like hanging sculptures from Haegue Yang; a pair of Park Seo-bo works on canvas using ceramic from the artist’s “Ecriture” series; and one of fellow Dansaekhwa artist Ha Chong-hyun’s “Conjunction” paintings, created using his bae-ap-bub technique of pushing paint through the back of the canvas.
With works by Wallen Mapondera
Wallen Mapondera, installation view in SMAC Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Photo by Michele Galeotto/Good Takes Only. Courtesy of SMAC Gallery.
Part of the single-artist Discoveries section of the fair, SMAC—one of just two galleries hailing from Africa—shows “Within and Between,” a new body of work by Wallen Mapondera, who is coming off representing Zimbabwe at last year’s Venice Biennale. The pieces explore ideas of space: physical, intangible, and spiritual alike.
Mapondera creates tapestries using cardboard boxes, a reference to the confines and shelters we build to host our bodies and souls. His preferred medium of found materials are taken from spaces of happiness and then used to construct stories and ponder questions about personal lineage, spiritual freedom, and the quantification of the metaphysical.
With works by Tammy Nguyen, Do Ho Suh, Lee Bul, Gilbert & George, Billy Childish, Tom Friedman, Liu Wei, and Nari Ward
Installation view of Lehmann Maupin’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin.
Along the center thoroughfare—or “meridian,” as Art Basel likes to term it—the behemoths are lined up: Perrotin beside Pace Gallery, Gagosian, David Zwirner, Lehmann Maupin, White Cube, and finally Hauser & Wirth. This line-up of works from art world superstars rivals that of any institutional collection, and the booths stay consistently packed, with brisk sales, works being constantly rotated, and photo opportunities galore.
At Lehmann Maupin, the work seems to have a little more room to breathe, whether it is with the new large-scale painting The Gape (2023) by Tammy Nguyen, which the gallery placed at the top of its booth highlights; an ethereal work, Perdu CXLVIII (2023) by Lee Bul, made of mother of pearl and acrylic paint; or even the fair-standard Do Ho Suh polyester kitchen appliance. This time it is notably encased in a glowing glass display: no doubt a result of the artist’s delicate work from the same series being damaged during an after-hours event at Australia’s MCA last month.
With works by anothermountainman (Stanley Wong)
anothermountainman (Stanley Wong), installation view in Lucie Chang Fine Arts’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Photo by Christina Ko. Courtesy of Lucie Chang Fine Arts.
Commissioning anothermountainman (Stanley Wong) to create a site-specific installation for its Insights booth (the sector featuring works created specifically for Art Basel), Lucie Chang Fine Arts made a smart play, capitalizing on the artist’s always visually captivating use of the city’s iconic red, white, and blue cheap plastic carrier bags that Wong sees as a symbol of Hong Kong’s simple resilience.
Lucie Chang Fine Arts
Besides being incredibly Instagrammable, it seems to act as a galvanizing presence, uniting viewers in their love of the city, and acting as a beacon of consistency, with work created as recently as this year and from as far back as 2001, meshed together seamlessly.
With works by Yan Cong, Liu Heung Shing, Zhao Gang, Kang Haoxian, Ju Ting, Zhu Xinjian, Qiu Jiongjiong, Wen Ling, and Liu Haichen
Despite being tucked in the back of the upper floor of the fair, Beijing’s Star Gallery has a strong and bold showing, anchored by a sprawling three-meter-long painting by Yan Cong titled Mice, which was one of its first works to sell, going to a private collection. Also getting attention is a black-and-white photograph by Liu Heung Shing featuring a man holding up a sign that reads, in simplified Chinese: 要艺术自由—freedom for art.
Other works include the macabre Richter is Dead No. 1 by Manchurian artist Zhao Gang; a tactile hanging piece by Ju Ting, Winter is Coming; and Zhu Xinjian’s ink rabbits Detaining the Moon for the Empty Mountain.
With works by Tishan Hsu, Jes Fan, Taro Masushio, Henry Shum, Vunkwan Tam, and Raha Raissnia
Installation view of Empty Gallery’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2023. Courtesy of Empty Gallery.
Two artists hosting exhibitions at Empty Gallery’s Hong Kong gallery also hold pride of place at its booth. Jes Fan’s aqua resin, selenium, glass, and pigment sculptures, draw from Fan’s glassmaking expertise and are merged with scientific processes to deal with questions of biology and flux states, which relate to the artist’s cultural and gender identity.
Tishan Hsu’s work also explores hybrid spaces, though primarily exploring the divide between tactile and digital. breath 9 is a wall-mounted sculpture made from UV-cured inkjet, acrylic, silicone, and ink on wood, for a final product that teases both the eye and mind.
With works by Martin Margiela, Luc Tuymans, Mark Manders, Michaël Borremans, Marlene Dumas, and Mircea Suciu
Half of Antwerp gallery Zeno X’s booth was taken up by sensual and subversively classical sculptures by fashion designer Martin Margiela, alongside images from his “Film Dust” series, which raise questions on authorship in a subtle, sophisticated manner (and yes, these are photographs of film dust). The booth also includes moody, seductive canvases by Marlene Dumas, Le Désespoir de la Vieille (2020); and Luc Tuymans, Seagull (2018).
Mark Bradford, Elizabeth Peyton and Kazuo Shiraga Top Healthy Sales at Art Basel Hong Kong
At the opening of Art Basel Hong Kong, collectors and museums returned to the fair’s latest edition with dealers reporting success in placing works across private and institutional collections based in Asia.
In sales reports, dealers said that the return to the Asia-Pacific market hub was a healthy one. Works valued as high as $5 million landed with buyers by Wednesday. Despite some fears circulating among dealers that two recent banking crises in the U.S. and Switzerland might hamper business, the effects have yet to reveal themselves on the fair circuit, sources told ARTnews.
“There’s an appetite for buying art,” Phillips Hong Kong specialist Isaure de Viel Castel told ARTnews. Castel attended the opening day of the fair, which coincided with the auction house opening its new West Kowloon location. Castel and her colleagues had long been awaiting the market’s return to the hub after prolonged lockdown restrictions. “It’s really the first time that Hong Kong is fully open.”
Collectors appeared to be moving with clear intention through the fair, art advisor Ed Tang, who is based between New York and Hong Kong, told ARTnews, describing the pace of the inquiries and buying as moving at a “slightly different rhythm” than what’s typically seen at Western fairs. “I didn’t take it as a sign of hesitancy from collectors. There’s just a lot of choice.”
Collectors like Jens Faurschou, Alan Lo, Yusaku Maezawa, and Maya Hoffman were among the fair’s closely-watched attendees. Drawing some of fair’s high-profile guests this week. according to Tang and Castel, was another attraction in Hong Kong: the opening of the long-awaited M+ museum, decades in the making.
A few dealers said the opening outpaced expectations. David Kordansky Gallery, which has locations in New York and Los Angeles, reported that its entire booth of works on paper and painting by Adam Pendleton sold within the fair’s opening hours. The dealer reported that 11 silkscreen paintings and drawings on Mylar that Pendleton produced last year each sold for prices between $95,000 and $135,000 to collectors in Asia.
Works by Mark Bradford, Alice Neel, George Condo and Kazuo Shiraga commanded the highest prices during the fair’s opening days. Not for the first time this year, Hauser & Wirth reported that works by Bradford and Condo landed with buyers for seven figure sums. Per the gallery, Condo’s 2011 painting Purple Compression, a lavender-hued and Picasso-inspired group of distorted faces, sold at Art Basel Hong Kong for $4.75 million, going to a private collection that’s based between New York and Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Mark Bradford’s large-scale abstraction A Straight Line sold for $3.5 million. Another by Bradford sold from the gallery’s showcase at Frieze Los Angeles for the same price. Works by Henry Taylor, Pat Steir, Ed Clark and Frank Bowling were among the others. Their works sold for prices between $350,000 and $975,000.
Chelsea dealer Lehmann Maupin saw success in placing works with collectors in the region. Works by Nari Ward, Liu Wei, Lee Bul and Tom Friedman went to Asian buyers, the gallery reported.
Among the other sales made during the fair’s opening days was one by Elizabeth Peyton at David Zwirner. Peyton’s 2005 portrait of a man’s from a side profile view titled Truffaut sold for $2.2 million to a museum based in China, the name of which the gallery did not disclose, but only described cryptically as “major.” It was not the only one by an in-demand artist from the gallery’s roster to see museum attention though. Another piece by provocateur Jordan Wolfson, a sculpture made from stainless steel hardware, nylon mesh, chain, and spray paint, dated from 2016 to 2022 sold for $900,000 to Shanghai’s Long Museum, a recurring buyer on the Hong Kong fair scene.
Other galleries made big figures. New York dealer Fergus McCaffrey made one of the event’s biggest deals, selling a 1991 red abstract painting by Kazuo Shiraga that came from the artist’s estate for $5 million. It went to an undisclosed buyer. At the Brussels-based dealer Xavier Hufkens’s booth, a portrait of a seated woman by Alice Neel, who has seen renewed market attention following a showcase at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021 achieved over the $1 million mark. The 1966 painting, Muriel Gardiner Buttinger sold for a price between $1 million and $1.2 million (the gallery did not disclose the exact sale figure.). Though it was the only work from the dealer’s showcase to achieve a blue-chip price, five paintings by Cassi Namoda and other sculptures by Thomas Houseago and also sold. Those works went for prices ranging between $50,000 and $400,000, respectively.
Meanwhile, dealers based in Europe and U.K saw steady sales that hit big numbers. Cardi Gallery, which has locations in Milan and London and Paris’s Mennour sold paintings by Giorgio De Chirico and Lee Ufan, the first from 1970 and the other from 2014, for prices above $1 million, respectively. London gallerist Stephen Friedman brought a group of works by in-demand artists on its roster. Painting by Andreas Eriksson, Sarah Ball and Caroline Coon that Friedman showcased sold for prices around $100,000 each, the dealer reported. Works by the latter two were purchased by museums.
Elsewhere, works by Calgary-based artist Tammi Campbell that riff on canonical artists like Ed Ruscha and Josef Albers that were brought by Los Angeles dealer Anat Ebgi were sold in the fair’s “Discoveries” section that’s meant to highlight emerging artists. Those works went for prices between $10,000 and $40,000.
Micro galleries highlighting MMIWG stories aim to reconcile through knowledge and art
When Sheila Joris stumbled upon a colourful display of books at her local Ikea store, the artwork on the fabric book covers immediately caught her eye.
What peaked her curiosity was the names of several missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) from across Canada were printed in bright gold letters on the books.
Upon further research, the Strathroy, Ont., business owner was “astounded” to learn the number and stories of women and children whose families never heard from them again. It inspired Joris to showcase the display at the front window of her downtown store, KYIS Embroidery, to create more awareness.
“It’s just a way of me showing that I care,” she said. “Some of these families didn’t get any help to find their loved ones and I think it’s really sad. Their stories deserve to be heard.”
Joris’s shop is one of many spaces throughout the country taking part in the Canadian Library (TCL) project. A micro gallery art installation that aims to raise awareness around the MMIWG crisis.
WATCH | Business owner Sheila Joris expresses why she cares about the stories of MMIWG:
“The only way we’re ever going to achieve any sort of reconciliation and break down barriers is once there’s education for everyone and it starts by having these important conversations,” said Shanta Sundarason, a Toronto-based activist leading the grassroots project.
Since they started their efforts in October 2021, participants have collected book donations of any genre. They order fabric covers designed by Indigenous artists, each one with the name of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman or girl.
More than 8,000 books have been collected so far. Ultimately, they’ll be pooled together and displayed at a national museum or gallery by the end of this year, Sundarason said, adding that she wants them to be an educational tool to memorialize the lives lost.
It’s going to take a lot to build up trust between settlers and Indigenous people.– Shanta Sundarason, founder of TCL
Sundarason, who came to Canada from Singapore 12 years ago, felt a responsibility as an immigrant to educate herself and others on the stories of residential school survivors and the systemic discrimination that many Indigenous people still face, she said.
“To find out that there’s so many people in a country like Canada who still don’t have clean drinking water was very horrifying and there’s been so much that’s happened to these communities,” she said.
“It’s going to take a lot to build up trust between settlers and Indigenous people who have been trying for decades to tell us the stories of what they’ve been through.”
TCL is displayed at every Ikea store in Canada, as well as at cafés and hospitals, and more recently at the York Region District School Board, Sundarason said.
A collective step toward reconciliation, says elder
TCL has received overwhelming support from Indigenous elders. At first, many of them were skeptical of the project but eventually provided their guidance to its team, Sundarason said.
In Calgary, TCL is spearheaded by linda manyguns, a Blackfoot woman from Siksika Nation in southern Alberta who uses only lower-case letters for her name to acknowledge the Indigenous struggle for recognition.
Also Mount Royal University’s associate vice-president of Indigenization and decolonization, manyguns said she was fascinated by TCL’s inclusiveness and its ability to bring the MMIWG crisis to the forefront in a way that centres on their family members’ voices.
“There’s a huge chasm of emptiness between the Canadian society in general and the Indigenous experience,” she said.
“People need to understand that these are not bad women — they’re just encased in a social context that’s been created due to the colonial perspectives and placements of Aboriginal people and as a result, it puts them in situations which make them vulnerable.”
TCL creates a place for the MMIWG’s memories to live, while also giving Indigenous artists a platform to shine since the artwork attracts all kinds of people, manyguns said.
“It’s a collective step toward reconciliation because it’s an an ethical third space where people can come together to work together and create new frontiers. The only way that we can make change is through knowledge.”
She hopes TCL can motivate enough people to come together and create change so more names aren’t added to the list of missing Indigenous women and girls.
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