Which came first, the image or the appropriated image?
Although the Associated Press may be suing Shepard Fairey over the use of a photographic image in what became the iconic image of 2008 (if not the decade), Warrior Ant Press exerts that work produced by m.o.i. that used Shepard Fairey images based upon the AP photograph clearly falls under fair use. And does so for the following reasons.
One persons trash is another ones treasure. Images used by m.o.i. were either discovered on handbills found in the post-election trash outside of the local Obama headquarters, or in the case of one particular work, in the mail from Move On dot Org. Artists are free to re-purpose physical objects as they see fit. If one owned a Picasso and decided to paint over it and create a new work of art it would no longer be a Picasso. If I called this re-purposing art, it would be so, otherwise it would be defacement.
m.o.i has a long history of appropriation whereby the physicality of the original object is embedded within another, newer, work. This practice doesn't toy with the idea that art is informed by other art, it takes the idea to its literal conclusion. This retains the original intellectual property rights and yet lays a cloak of an entirely new one upon it. To compound the rights issue, the work is then sent to others gratis with an inherently embedded challenge, "who now owns the object? and what will you do with it? keep it as such? re-purpose it? who owns the ideas behind the object?"
Once these objects have left the realm of Warrior Ant Press these decisions become those of the new owners. And should they increase in value, then m.o.i. would receive none of the benefits thus the appropriations are used for financial gain.
Secondly, any work that appropriates an iconic political image based upon a political photograph to create a new work is inherently political. It has to be. Propaganda begets propaganda art begets art about propaganda art. And political expression and art are uniquely guaranteed as a First Amendment right in this country.
Thirdly. The AP photograph in question has largely little meaning unless the propaganda posters follow. Without the propaganda campaign, it's just another of any thousands of photographs taken during the course of the campaign. But once the propaganda posters went viral, the original photograph becomes an incredibly valuable piece. Its value is not diminished by appropriation but rather increased.
Likewise, the use of appropriated images in m.o.i's work has no meaning - unless the public has an understanding of political propagandist images of Obama. Warhol can't make art from a Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy image unless the public already has bestowed iconic status to these celebrities. m.o.i.'swork seeks to re purpose an iconic image into another form of idolatry. Who's that face on the dollar bill? It's not even close to an engraving; there's no way you can mistake it for a $5 bill. And because the image has been put on the bill, one immediately grasps that it's 'art'. The connections are obvious; thus the work immediately becomes what it seeks to comment on - art and money in politics.
Lastly. And we could go on but let's not and this may the most relevant of all the arguments. The images in m.o.i.'s work aren't even the same ones as originally appeared in the Manny Garcia image. They are images, produced at the request of the Obama campaign, to replace the Manny Garcia image. Given the thousands of time the public had seen the image, the actual gesture no longer mattered. All it took was a red and blue Russian Constructivist image to spring to mind the shibboleths of HOPE, CHANGE, and PROGRESS.
It is art for arts sake, and the sake of politics; all without apology. That the masses are so quick to understand it speaks more to the power of the masses than to the power of the art. You are either with me, or against me. We don't care because we are moving forward whether you wish to or not.
Biggie O. Larger than life and the ultimate player. We get it. Does the AP?
Images, top to bottom. All images and art work by m.o.i., collection of Warrior Ant Press.
1."Presidential portrait for a government office", 2009.
2."Change Cola°", 2008.
3. "new money", 2008.
3."Join the party", 2009.