Shepard Fairey's latest work has not been well received in Denmark. Last weekend, a group of angry thugs called Fairey "Obama illuminati" and then proceeded to beat up him and a friend after the opening of his exhibition in Copenhagen, leaving the world famous graffiti artist with a black eye and a bruised rib. Fairey refused to report the assault to the police--"The only thing I could see coming out of it was further media commentary like 'street artist whiner Shepard Fairey can't hold it down in a fight so he snitches to the cops," Fairey said--so the incident wasn't reported until Friday when The Guardian got the scoop.
On the surface, it seems like Fairey got caught in the middle of a local controversy between leftwingers and the city government. But given the fact that the artist struggled to make amends with both sides, the attack seems to have been borne of Danish leftist radical distaste of both Obama and hipsters. If you were to draw a Venn diagram, Fairey would fit neatly in the middle. The Guardian explains:
The LA-based artist believes the attack was sparked by a misunderstanding over his mural commemorating the demolition of the legendary "Ungdomshuset" (youth house) at Jagtvej 69. The building, a long-term base for Copenhagen's leftwing community, was controversially demolished in 2007. In the intervening years it has become a potent symbol of the standoff between the establishment in Copenhagen and its radical fringe. …
Within a day of completion, the mural was vandalized by protesters, with graffiti sending messages of 'no peace' and 'go home, Yankee hipster'. Fairey subsequently collaborated with former members of the 69 youth house to redecorate the lower half of the installation. His new version contains images of riot police and explosions, together with a new, more combative slogan: "Nothing forgotten, nothing forgiven".
In the eyes of the leftwing community, the local city council made Fairey their pawn in order to send an insult to the activists whose base they destroyed four years ago. The local Danish press reports that the council paid Fairey nearly $50,000 for the mural, the first of four planned around Copenhagen, but Fairey denies that his commission came from the city. Fairey had full creative freedom for the works, according to Henrik Chulu with the art blog Frikultur who says the murals are "part of a strategy to brand Copenhagen as progressive and 'cool'."
As it were, Fairey's is not the type of cool the Danish like or want. The controversy that turned to violence in Denmark sheds a little light on how far we've come since the controversy that helped make Fairey's iconic Obama poster so famous. After a escaping unscathed from a copyright battle over the photo used for the poster, Fairey has taken a lot of flak for being a sell-out. Lately, Fairey has been the star of the record-breaking Museum of Contemporary Art graffiti show in Los Angeles and making huge commissions in the process. At first glance, it might seem like Fairey's come back to Earth. (After all, he has now literally inserted himself into fight in a foreign land over issues of social justice.) But Fairey's as capitalist as ever. He's even selling prints that feature the Copenhagen mural's iconography online.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.