Battle with AP fails to dim artist's appeal with fans
Shepard Fairey autographs his book on Oct. 17 after speaking to sold-out crowed before the opening of his show "Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand" at The Andy Warhol.
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After artist Shepard Fairey stepped out and the elevator door closed, the teenagers inside exploded in glee: "I never thought I'd see him in the flesh! I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"
Earlier that day Fairey had admitted that he lied about which Associated Press image he had used as the source for his now famed Obama/HOPE poster. If that caused people to lose interest in him, it wasn't evident at The Andy Warhol Museum Oct. 16, where admirers stopped him in the galleries and showed up in record numbers the next night at the opening reception for an exhibition of his artwork.
Among the 1,034 visitors who stood in the rain waiting to get into the reception were local art aficionados, hipsters and out-of-towners such as the four Arab-Americans who drove from Michigan (and back that night) because they admired Fairey's positive portrayals of Arabs. The museum stayed open an additional hour as people lingered until 11 p.m.
During the day, 772 others visited the museum, said Rick Armstrong, museum communications manager. He said that was an unusually high turnout for an opening day because people generally wait to attend the evening event.
The attendance record was previously held by the "Warhol Look" exhibition in June of 2000, which drew 833 for the opening, but only 198 during the day, Armstrong said.
Also unusual were the number of walk-up visitors. Armstrong said that typically 75 percent of admissions are pre-sale and 25 percent walk-ups. The reverse was true for the Fairey opening.
The artist has a large following among people who blog about art and those who blog about political causes, Armstrong said. "It's their own little clique. He has a posse -- just like he wanted for Andre [the Giant]."
Armstrong said that an exclusive Fairey print that went on sale only at the museum on Oct. 18 was showing up on eBay shortly after. For the edition of 450, Fairey changed the signature red background of his "Global Warning" print to the magenta of the Warhol Web site.
The Warhol has hosted celebrity in the past, including Farah Fawcett, Mick Jagger and John Waters. But Armstrong said he'd "never seen so many people who wanted to be close to [the artist]," waiting for Fairey to autograph copies of his book, or crowding around as he played DJ later in the evening.
"Shepard's no stranger to controversy, and we're no stranger to controversy, so it's a marriage made in heaven," said Eric Shiner, the museum's Milton Fine curator of art.
"I think [the admission] will boost attendance more than anything else. Now that there's a certain edge and controversy to the show I think people are going to be more curious than ever to see what his work is all about, and of course to see the original Obama painting, which is on display."
Numbers aren't in yet, but anecdotally attendance was average last week, peaking Friday and Saturday.
Yesterday visitors were unaware of or not concerned about the latest development in Fairey's legal dispute with AP.
"I don't think it affected me one bit," said Jennifer Potter, a substitute art teacher for the Greensburg Public Schools. "So many artists have lied over the centuries. I think art's art no matter where you get it."
Markus Giesler, a resident of Toronto here for a consumer marketing conference, said, "I find the complaint of infringement, and that the artist has to justify that kind of thing given the critical imperative of his work, rather ironic. Ultimately this is about authenticity, and this is a post-authentic artist."
First Published October 26, 2009 12:00 am