Obama-hope poster

Obama-hope poster

Yesterday, I returned  to the Shepard Fairey Exhibit at the ICA–this time, with visitors from out of town.

We were impressed with how prolific Fairey has been, with the precision and beauty of his images, and  with his complex, ironic juxtaposition of past and present. (His backgrounds include a lot of old newspaper clippings and many references to art forms of the past).

In one work, Fairey selectively uses and amplifies portions of the American dollar bill–included an eye, which I’d never noticed until Jessie pointed it out; a man carrying a briefcase of money in one hand and flowers in the otherm and a woman, probably his wife, carrying a small missile in her arms.  A caption reads: “No cents.”

This time, I studied the controversial Obama “Hope” poster, which, from across a large room DOES look like a colorized version of the copyrighted Associated Press photograph on which it was based.

But on closer inspection, in this version,  it becomes  clear  that Fairey has greatly transformed the photo, which he uses in a provocative interchange with the colors, images, slogans, stencils,  newspaper clippings and other elements  typical of  (and original to) his work.

Black “brushstrokes” highlighting Obama’s facial features serve as a frame for those elements, which in turn, provide the color, shading and chiseled shaping of Obama’s head.

As a result,  the poster becomes a figure-ground study portraying many past events, conflicts and dilemmas that brought the US to the crises with which Obama is grappling, today.

The poster’s  intertwining of past and present with the Obama image bring a definite irony to the slogan “Hope.” (One of the newspaper headlines in the background reads:”Congress Blames Hoover for Having No Sense of Humor).

Donna  pointed out that  the portrait  is yet another example of  Fairey’s overriding message: how the slogans, art and icons of advertising are used  to move us to obey–whether the order be “buy”, “peace”,  “shoot” or “hope.”

Fairey employs the same techniques for his portraits of Martin Luther King and other political leaders, musicians, artists and even one of a Campbell’s soup can–  referencing and repeating the work of Andy Warhol, whose photography-based work, like Fairey’s,  used  advertising’s methods  to comment on and exhibit the medium’s power.

Regarding Fairey’s recent arrest for illegally postering public property: Nancy (who happens to be a judge) and I wondered what controversy would arise if  his work were posted as paid-for advertising–to sell what some might view as subversive, anti-establishment or  propagandist ideas.

She later commented “Fairey seeks to reframe the constitutional debate so that artistic expression/speech is favored over commercial speech/intellectual property”.

Doree questioned whether Fairey’s work is political commentary  or art.   I’d have to say: it’s both.

Comments welcome!


New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.


Heads and Tales Review

February 18, 2009

Hatry photo, Menard Gallery Heads and Tales

Hatry photo, Menard Gallery Heads and Tales

If Heide Hatry’s provocative photographic show—Heads and Tales–at the Peirre Menard Gallery, (10 Arrow St. in Cambridge) is meant to shock: it does. In fact, for a few moments,  it made me fear for the mental health of the artist, who has (beautifully–even lovingly)  photographed her sculptures portraying female victims of violent death.

Hatry, who grew up in Germany and moved to New York City in 2003,  sculpted life-sized female mannequins from clay and covered them with untreated pigskin (a cold wet sample of which is available in the gallery with the notice: “please touch”). She added raw meat for the lips and fresh pig eyes—and in some cases, flies, safety pins, and other props—creating, according to the gallery writeup, “the illusion of life where there is none”.

Hatry then photographed the mannequins—some enlarged to 20”x 30”, others more life-size, at 12” x 18”.

Viewed from afar, the photographs appear lifelike, but close up, you realize the subjects are constructs—adding physical and intellectual layers to the artist’s statements on the horrifying situations faced by many women—and on photography’s role in bringing the inanimate to life.

Hatry’s “views” are further emphasized by accompanying tales about the “women’s” lives (and deaths) as imagined by 27 writers—some of them well known feminists.

The show is well-conceived and displayed, which makes its subject matter all the more disturbing.

The exhibit, which opened Feb 13, 2009, will run through March 15. It corresponds with the release of Hatry’s book, Heads and Tales, and with readings, book signings and the premiere of a play.


New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.

No Valentine for Microsoft

February 15, 2009

On Valentine’s night,  I spent two hours chatting with one of my new tech support friends, in India.  Eventually, he determined that the huge icons on my desktop were not caused by a previously diagnosed corrupted user account or Vista–that my computer—a bad hard drive–was to blame.

The next morning, Walt, from a list serve I subscribe to, suggested a two-click fix.

If you need to create PDF files, you can try PDFCreator — open source and free.  Much cheaper than Adobe Pro 9.  In fact, the only real good reason to get Adobe Acrobat Pro anymore is if you want to use their review, annotation, and editing tools.  For PDF creation, PDFCreator works great, and evidently FoxIt is the better reader.

If your icons are large because of a setting, then try the following — http://www.mydigitallife.info/2007/12/09/how-to-resize-and-change-vista-desktop-icons-size/

Both solutions worked.

Later, my Indian tech support friend  emailed to tell me that he was glad to have resolved my issue, was closing the case, and that it was a pleasure serving me.(Having previously spent 64 hours trying to resolve MS issues, I was remarkably patient, it I do say so myself).

Still, much as I appreciated the companionship on  Valentine’s night, I’m afraid the relationship just isn’t working out.  It’s not easy to break up with Microsoft…but, clearly, that’s something I need to do.

Comments (and lawyers!) welcome!


New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.

I know there’s nothing more boring than other peoples’ computer problems but now that I’m in my 61st hour of  Microsoft Vista difficulties and my sixth day of being unable to use Comcast email for my business,  I’m going public  in hopes that Microsoft and Comcast will take note and send reinforcements–or of finding  a lawyer who would like to start a class action suit or two.

If anyone is interested in either saga or has any advice, I’ll  be happy to post the details (or email them–should that become a possibility).  In the meantime, I look forward to continuing my newfound friendships and morning, noon and late night phone calls with the tech support communities in India, New Jersey, Nova Scotia, Boston, Newfoundland, and North Carolina . Everyone has been most gracious and sympathetic, and I do appreciate finally having a social life.

PS–Did you know that Microsoft will help with Vista issues for free? From the support web site, it looks like you have to pay $59 per call or online chat–so I wasted three months emailing back and forth with 24-hour response time.  According to the site, free support is available only for Service Pack I  will be available only through March 31, 2009, but at the rate my case is being resolved, it should be available for years to come.  Click here for the url.

New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.

After spending Friday night in jail,  today,  street artist Shepard Fairey was arraigned today in Boston for allegedly  pasting “Andre The Giant” graffiti near an entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Boston University bridge across the Charles River–nine years ago.   Fairey also countersued the Associated Press–who  sued him last week   for basing his now famous Obama “Hope” poster on a copyrighted  AP photograph.

Having seen the poster at Fairey’s opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art last week, I agree with him that the poster significantly transformed the photo (actually, I think, improved it and turned it into art)  and, thus, does not violate copyright law.  What’s more, Fairey has not sold the work–and, while he might have enhanced (and now harmed) his reputation by distributing it for free, he did not directly use it for financial gain.

The “tagging” of public places and ensuing  arrests are part and parcel of Fairey’s art.   He  and his work present a provocative and humorous challenge to authority; the bruhaha  publicizes Fairey’s image and images,  delights upstarts, and, I suppose, infuriates the powers that be. It also  promises to enlarge the coffers of Fairey,of the ICA (whose director,  Jill Medvedow recently sent out an email of support on Fairey’s behalf)  and, especially, of the lawyers.

Still,  with the world  going to rack and ruin, it’s nice to know that some people are making money– and  fun to have a new set of old issues to focus on.


New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.

Shepard Fairey and poster

Shepard Fairey and poster

Kudos to Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art for mounting a spectacular 20-year restrospective of Shepard Fairey’s work–which opened for members on Feb. 4, 2009.

Entitled  “Supply and Demand,”  the show, which runs through August 16, 2009,  includes some 200 stickers, posters, portraits, and murals, including the now iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster which has found its way all over the world.

The show  traces Fairy’s work  to the 1980s when, as a teenager in Charleston, South Carolina, he was attracted to counter-cultures like skateboarding and punk rock–and their stickers–and began making his own.

As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1988,  Fairey instructed a friend in making a paper cut stencil using an image of Andre the Giant, who a popular figure in the World Wrestling Federation, am  ICA handout explains.  The two then paired the face with the phrase “Andre the Giant has a posse,”  and over the next six years, produced more than a million hand-printed and cut stickers, which Fairey sent to friends who posted them all over the US.

(On a huge campaign billboard, he also used one to cover the face of then-Providence mayor Buddy Cianci, who says sheepishly in an accompanying video that this disturbed him because it was defacing property. It’s all the funnier in hindsight, knowing that Cianci was later jailed on corruption charges).

Toward the end of the 1990s,  Fairey started to challenge what the ICA calls the “corporate advertising machine…He asks  us to consider whether the so-called ‘public space’ is really public.

“Most advertising takes an ‘in your face’ approach to sell or influence consumers. Fairey’s Obey giant campaign–which features the word “obey” and other slogans [on a variety of images ]sells nothing but its mysterious imagery, ambiguity and underground appeal  has made passers-by worldwide question the visual noise that crowds our streets”–as well as the insidious advertising messages used to command us.

One large room features portraits–some of which  incorporate the “obey” command.  One print portrays George W. Bush as a vampire, with blood running out of his mouth.  Other portraits feature musicians, guerilla leaders, gang members,  Muslim women, and additional political leaders.

A highlight is  Fairey’s iconic “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama, which “has spread like a virus on TV, in print and online, on t-shirts and buttons, and guerilla-style on streets all over the globe.”

The poster seems particularly poignant with Obama, now in his third week as President,   facing not only a terrible economic situation and two wars, but also the disintegration of a seemingly promising leadership team whose members betrayed him and us for personal greed.

The exhibit, co-curated by guest curator Pedro Alonzo and Emily Moore Bouillet, former assistant curator at the ICA, and sponsored by Levi-Strauss culminates with a set of four stunning, intricately designed,  murals.

Commissioned by the ICA, the murals, along with  the other components and the exhibit as a whole  are inspirational.

Not only do they each  convey provocative messages about individuals’ relationship to power and commerce,  but they  embody and communicate  an individual’s ability to  follow his creative instincts and passion to achieve artistic and, ironically,  commercial success.


Having arrived on time for the opening, I didn’t have to wait in line–but in a lovely wine reception on the second floor, was told that people who  got there early had to stand outside in the cold until the official opening time. in leaving, at around 8 PM, I had to cut around long, winding lines of people in the lobby who were waiting to sign in.

My only beef  was the lack of beef…the wine was fine, but my companion, Mark H. and I would have appreciated a few chips to go along with it.  Next time, I’ll definitely arrive on time–and eat before I go.


New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.

Over a brown-bag lunch at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, New York Times Business  Columnist Joe Nocera opened his talk on the daunting question, “The Economy: Where Are We Headed?” with a resounding:  “I don’t know.”

He  offered background on the current (and future, he predicts) financial crisis, focusing first on the  housing foreclosure  crisis, and then on the banking industry.

Regarding housing, he suggested that– unfair as it may seem to people who didn’t buy into risky mortgages they couldn’t afford–we as an nation should bite the bullet and find ways to help those who did hold onto their homes.  One suggestion:  rather than  kick people out of foreclosed  homes, banks could rent them to the forfeiters  with an option to buy them back in five years with a 10 per cent down payment.

Regarding banking, Nocera said he sees no reason why “shareholder value” should remain the cornerstone  of banking industry strategy.  He  feels little sympathy for those who bet that they’d win big profits–up to 25 per cent–but lost, he said.

In Nocera’s view, Washington currently seems paralyzed by indecision over how to proceed.

One option  is the “bad bank,” in which the government buys all of the bad assets but that option has stalled because no one knows what the assets are worth.

Another is an  “RTC”  strategy like that used during the Savings and Loan Crisis of the  1980s,  in which the government formed the Resolution Trust Corporation to take over  banks. The RTC  allowed some to fold, and sold others, without the assets to new owners. The RTC  then gradually sold aoff the assets, with riders assuring that if the new owners made money, the government would receive a portion of the profits.  The process took ten years, Nocera said, but it worked.

While  President Obama  is confident about his ability to make decisions on many topics, the economy isn’t one of them, Nocera said.   Obama  chose  Bush holdover Tim Geitner as Treasury Secretary over former Harvard President Larry Summers mainly for personality reasons, but, Nocera predicted, Geitner is not likely to be able to move away from the thinking of the previous administration in order to come up with much needed  new options.

Nocera commented  wryly that his  blog, the Executive Suite,  has served as a clearning house for ideas on how to solve both the economic crisis–none of which appear to have been taken up by either administration.

Nocera’s latest post as of this writing is entitled” Bankers Gone Bonkers.”  It appeared on January 30, 2009 at http://executivesuite.blogs.nytimes.com/.


New Cambridge Observer is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.