Shepard Fairey fights COVID-19 too at the GAM in Rome

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The “3 Decades of Dissent” exhibit experiments with a new curation format: remote and “interfered” 


By Martina Perelli / Contributor

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    “Guns and Roses” (2007) by Shepard Fairey exhibited at GAM.

ROME— Shepard Fairey’s “3 Decades of Dissent” held at the Modern Art Gallery (Galleria di Arte Moderna) from Sept. 17 adopted an original curatorial arrangement exclusively for Rome. Not only was the American artist personally involved in the curation, but his new works were exhibited alongside Italian artists.  

The exhibit was due to run until Nov. 22 but was suspended by the DPCM ministerial decree on Nov. 3.

Fairey, also known as Obey, is one of the most famous urban artists worldwide, and, together with GAM curators Claudio Crescentini, Federica Pirani, and the Wunderkammern Gallery, they decided to exhibit 30 of Obey’s recent unpublished graphic works alongside contemporary Italian art to create an “interferenze d’arte” (interferences of art). 

This collaboration involved the Capitoline Superintendence, which manages historical-artistic and monumental assets owned by Roma Capitale, with artists Antonio Donghi, Gino Bonichi, Renato Gattuso, Marlo Schifano, and Luca Marla Patella.

“3 Decades of Dissent” in Rome adopted a new original format both for the direct involvement of the artist, who actively participated in the arrangement of the event, and for his dedication in the curatorial and interpretative aspect of his work that gave birth to suggestions and reflections at times surprising, said Claudio Crescentini, one of the exhibit curators and coordinator of the exhibition activities and urban art projects of GAM.  

According to Federica Pirani, art critic and GAM curator and coordinator of the gallery activities since 2011, the idea of combining Fairey’s and other artists’ works was developed by GAM curators to take advantage of the reduced exhibition space of the gallery and to enhance the permanent heritage of GAM with a system of rotation of works that would combine permanent and temporary expositions. This “continuous and uninterrupted earthquake’” type of organization is typical of many museums, especially those dedicated to contemporary art.  

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Fairey’s participation in the preparation of the exhibit was conducted remotely. He was in constant communication with the other curators but was forced to remain in Los Angeles, California. 

“Through art I tell the story of my visual responses to the fears and concerns that characterized the world in the last thirty years,” said Shepard Fairey on Rai Cultura. “But this exhibit digs deeper, creating a dialogue between my works and those selected from the collection of GAM.” 

The exhibition “3 Decades of Dissent” includes some of the major battles of the artist through themes from the fight for peace and the fight against racial violence, to the defense of human and gender equality and to the protection of the environment, said Pirani. 

“With what is happening in the world today, it becomes more than ever significant to create spaces where cultural, artistic and intellectual comparison could develop in the city,” said Crescentini. “Museums should be considered first and foremost the real centers, especially public ones.” 

In a Facebook comment, a visitor said that Fairey’s exhibit shows, “contemporary art against the capitalist system and its many aberrations.” 

Journalist and editor, Silvia Mattina, wrote on Periodico Italiano Magazine that in the exhibit Fairey seems to balance between individual freedom and well-being of citizenry through the emptying of reproducibility.  

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 “Il Cardinal Decano,” (1930) by Gino Bonichi (aka Scipione) and “Exclamation” (2019) by Shepard Fairey 

Fairey’s exhibit has traveled around the world in 2019 stopping in Grenoble, Brooklyn, Paris, Vancouver, Seoul, London, Miami, Los Angeles, and Naples before arriving to Rome, where the artist encountered the coronavirus outbreak.   

The growing emergency of COVID-19 did not stop the gallery from hosting exhibits after the first lockdown, with permission to reopen on June 2. The gallery took the mandatory precautions like monitoring visitors’ access, taking temperature, following COVID-19 visit protocol, and buying tickets online. 

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 COVID-19 protocol museum stand at GAM’s entrance with information on online tickets reservation and safety measures. 

According to Pirani, these protocols didn’t change the experience of the exhibit. 

“We sell out every day,” said a museum guard at GAM. “Yet, all visitors are Italian residents.” 

A museumgoer said that, despite the COVID-19 situation and restrictions, Fairey’s exhibit was so distinctive to experience because of the possibility to watch brand-new works, in addition to the theme of dissent, which is key to these past years but especially to the current situation. 

According to Pirani, the gallery’s capacity restriction limited the influx of visitors and reservations had sold out very often, until the Nov. 3 temporary closure.

Istat reported that during lockdown Italian tourism lost 19 million visitors and almost €78 million.  The International Council of Museums (ICOM) conducted a survey showing 95 percent of museums worldwide had to close to safeguard workers’ and visitors’ health. 

The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on culture resulted in the cancellation of the GAM series of meetings called Autunno Urbano. The month-long series of events, where  Fairey was also included, would have included readings and presentations centered upon urban and street art in Rome.  

Fairey took a stand on COVID-19, elections, and discriminatory battles that occur inside his country, as he said on his Instagram account.  After 100 years, the Time magazine has changed its front-page logo for the first time to featuring Shepard Fairey’s Vote as the cover image to encourage people to vote in the U.S. presidential election of 2020, recognizing the artist’s contribute to social and political matters.  

The news outlet Billboard informed that Fairey collaborated with Flood Magazine in National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) fundraising. He created three new covers to contribute to the #SaveOurStage movement, which helps independent music revenues during the pandemic. Among the other famous participants were the singer Patti Smith, the rapper Cordae, the musician Dem Jointz, and the actress Rain Phoenix.  

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“War by Numbers” (2019) by Shepard Fairey 

Fairey’s work is not the only urban art exhibit in Rome. Banksy, another famous street artist based in UK, exhibited “Banksy: A Visual Protest” at the Cloister of Bramante this fall, protesting for “themes of the world,” as the press office of the Cloister gallery wrote.   

Photographs by Martina Perelli. Interviews translated from Italian by the writer. 

Martina Perelli is a junior student and journalism contributor from Rome majoring in Communications with a minor in Psychology. Contact her at