Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego takes a chance with new show
Spike Hemans, Contributor
Instead of canvas, some artists use bricks and mortar. Instead of an easel, some artists stand on cement and use the urban landscape to guide them. Since the explosion of street and graffiti art in the 1970s, the best artists have been celebrated on the same level as those who work in the studio.
Most recently, today’s great street artists have gathered in San Diego to create a series of murals and installations put together by the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art and guest curator Pedro Alonzo.
“Far removed from the tradition of landscape paintings portraying idyllic settings, the urban landscape serves as a platform for innovation and a vehicle for expression,” Alonzo said. The curator brought all these disparate street artists together from 10 countries spanning three continents.
Headlining this all-star group is American artist Shepard Fairey, who moved from underground fame to a household name with his 2008 “Hope” poster featuring then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. This poster became the unofficial image of the campaign and appeared nationwide.
Fairey has come under fire recently, most notably for lending his counterculture image to mainstream political and commercial projects such as Saks Fifth Avenue stores. So how can an artist with a counterculture message justify what some see as selling out?
“I want to reach people through as many different platforms as possible,” Fairey said in response to criticism. “Street art is a bureaucracy-free way of reaching people, but T-shirts, stickers, commercial jobs, the Internet — there are so many different ways that I use to put my work in front of people.”
Fairey created two murals in San Diego, one that appears on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest, the other in South Park on the corner of Ivy and 30th streets. Fairey’s huge murals use a limited color palate and flat graphic depth, typical of his iconic work.
“The city is also the inspiration,” Alonzo continued. “In many cases, the appropriation of the city’s physical elements is employed to create work.”
Indeed this series of murals adds to the great tradition of public art, perhaps drawing parallels to the last great boom of murals and public art during the Great Depression.
But instead of extolling the virtues of patriotism and hard work, this new brand of public art is firmly postmodern, giving viewers widely different works by very unique artists.
Visit mcasd.org for more information and a map of all the local murals.