Wednesday, January 28, 2009

National Portrait Gallery responds

A while back I raised some issues concerning the acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery of the iconic Shepard Fairey portrait of President Obama. Today I received a response from the NPG:

Visual appropriation, a technique for adapting borrowed imagery which Shepard Fairey admits to using, has a long, time-honored tradition. Religious and political graphics have especially relied over the centuries on this sort of repetition. James Montgomery Flagg’s famous “I want you for the U. S. Army,” recruiting poster, for example, was “borrowed” without credit from British artist Alfred Leete’s image of a pointing-finger Lord Kitchener. Appropriation became a common tool of fine art in the 1960s in the hands of Andy Warhol and various pop artists. Fairey’s description for this approach is ““hijacking something with cultural relevance and switching it up.” Of course, wholesale borrowing can violate copyright issues legally and ethically if you are not “switching it up.” But in the case of Fairey’s portrait of Obama, his adaptation and translation of the face into something quite different falls squarely into the “fair use” category.

It is also true that the Portrait Gallery staff values pictures “from life” that represent an artist’s direct interpretation of a known subject. But there are exceptions to that standard. The engravers of George Washington’s day copied paintings for their prints; Currier and Ives’ political cartoons were based on photographic faces; designers of movie posters and political graphics typically adapt film stills and photographs. We consider all these forms valid, authentic expressions produced during the sitter’s lifetime and rich with biographical information.
Therefore, when I was told a few years ago that in order to be considered for acquisition by the NPG, a contemporary portrait had to be done from the live subject, that was wrong.

I thank the NPG for their response, but on a separate issue, I still think that Garcia's photo should accompany the Fairey artwork and that the wall plaque should detail the entire story for future generations.


To Philadelphia-born artist Barbara Steinberg, whose solo shows opens with a private view 19th February 6 - 9pm and an opening on 20th February, 2009 at London's Signal Gallery.

Barbara was born in Philadelphia and she studied at Smith College in Massachusetts, where she won a scholarship to study at Yale University summer school. On graduating from Smith, she received a grant to study sculpture in England, first with Ralph Brown at the West of England College of Art, then privately with Michael Ayrton in London. She returned briefly to America, to teach sculpture and take a Master of Fine Arts Degree at California State University at Long Beach, before settling permanently in London. She has exhibited across the UK in group and solo shows, most notably her solo exhibition at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. This is her first solo show at Signal Gallery.


Most likely some of you are aware of this news about the decision to close the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, and to sell off their extensive collection.

If you haven't already seen this, and are so inclined, here is a petition circulating in opposition to the decision.

Before you sign the petition, read why Mike Licht doesn't see why everybody else has missed the positive side of the Rose Art Museum closure at Brandeis.

Opportunity for artists with disabilities

Deadline: April 30, 2009

VSA arts, is seeking artwork by artists with disabilities for display at the Smithsonian Institution’s International Gallery in the S. Dillon Ripley Center in Washington, D.C. from June through September 2010. Artists are asked to consider the theme “Revealing Culture” as it relates to their work. Accepted mediums include two- and three-dimensional art, craft, digital art, installation, and time-based media. Work that is not selected for this exhibition will be considered for alternative spaces throughout Washington, D.C. during the 2010 International VSA arts Festival.

VSA arts’ International Festival is the largest arts and disability event in the world attracting thousands of participants. The festival will take place in Washington, D.C., June 6–12, 2010. Venues across the city will play host to artists from all media—visual arts, performing arts, literary arts, and media arts. This signature event features the achievements of people with disabilities, as well as the diversity of the arts and cultures of the participants.

Visit their website for additional information.

Another look at Soderbergh's Che

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Cuban revolution’s grim executioner, put people to death and wrecked Cuba’s economy. Steven Soderbergh’s two-part epic puts people to sleep and wastes their time.
In an interview given to the London Daily Worker in 1962, Che Guevara said that "if the nuclear missiles had remained we would have used them against the very heart of America, including New York City... we will march the path of victory, even if it costs millions of atomic victims... we keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm."

All of the dark side of the man who once urged "atomic extermination" for American "hyenas" is missing from the two current films about his life. I've got another review of the Che movies here.