Shepard Fairey of Obey Opens “May Day” Exhibit

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On May 1, 2010 (also known as May Day), the famous SoHo art space Deitch Projects opened its final exhibit.  The Exhibit is entitled “May Day” and consists entirely of Shepard Fairey’s work. SoJones was in attendance to find out what’s new with arguably one of the most famous street artists on the planet.

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The gallery opening was a very large event. The section of Wooster Street, where the gallery is located, in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, was completely full of Fairey fans and onlookers. Several A-list celebrities attended the event.

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Shepard Fairey conversing with Russell Simmons at Deitch Gallery May Day opening (Photo: Jacob Breinholt)

In various interviews, Shepard Fairey commented on what an honor, he considers it, to be able to show his work at Deitch’s final exhibit. The gallery, famous for its involvement in contemporary art, will be closing because its benefactor, Jeffrey Deitch will be leaving New York to work as a curator for a museum in California.

Since this exhibit has so much significance to the New York art community and to the Deitch gallery, much thought was put into its theme and design. The Deitch Project website described the exhibit, stating:

Deitch Projects is pleased to present May Day, an exhibition of new work by Shepard Fairey, as its final project. Titled not only in reference to the day of the exhibition’s opening, the multiple meanings of May Day resonate throughout the artist’s new body of work. Originally a celebration of spring and the rebirth it represents, May Day is also observed in many countries as International Worker’s Day or Labor Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations coordinated by unions and socialist groups. “Mayday” is also the distress signal used by pilots, police and firefighters in times of emergency.

With energy and urgency befitting the title May Day, Fairey captures the radical spirit of each of his subjects, using portraiture to celebrate some of the artists, musicians and political activists he most admires. Says Fairey, “These people I’m portraying were all revolutionary, in one sense or another. They started out on the margins of culture and ended up changing the mainstream. When we celebrate big steps that were made in the past, it reminds us that big steps can be made in the future.”

Many of the steps Fairey refers to involve the advocacy of the working class, put forth in the songs of Joe Strummer and Woody Guthrie and the writings of Cornel West, and among the works of other heroes portrayed in May Day. International Worker’s Day celebrated in nearly 100 countries throughout the world, commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago when a peaceful rally supporting workers on strike was disrupted by a bomb, and then a barrage of police gunfire. Because of negative sentiment surrounding the incident, U.S. President Grover Cleveland decided it was best to avoid celebrating the day, but it is precisely such sentiment that Fairey believes must be voiced: “It’s a day to express frustration with the powers that be, but also a day for activists to pursue ideals.” In May Day, he does both, with images supporting free speech and bemoaning the U.S. two party political system, pushing for renewable energy and critiquing corporate propaganda.

In Fairey’s mind, the persistence of difficulties across all of these arenas—political, environmental, economic, cultural—points to that third meaning of May Day: a distress signal. “By now we thought we would be in post-Bush utopia, but we’re still having to call attention to these problems,” he remarks. Like any mayday call, however, the sounding of the alarm also brings hope for help on the way. “If we stay silent, there’s no hope,” Fairey muses. “But if we make noise, if we put our ideas out there, then maybe we can make a change like the people in the portraits have done.”

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The exhibit is truly a spectacular work. Whether or not a fan of OBEY or Shepard Fairey, the message conveyed at the May Day exhibit is something that can be appreciated by anyone. The exhibit runs through the end of the month of May. For further details, please refer to the Deitch Projects website.

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Be sure to check out the gallery below, for more images of the May Day exhibit (All photos by: Jacob Breinholt):

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