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Shepard Fairey's Lower East Side Mural Just Gets Worse

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — Shepard Fairey’s massive mural on Houston Street, which has suffered at the hands of vandals since it went up more than two months ago, has been battered to near-oblivion.

Large chunks of the wall have been bashed in, covered in graffiti or been ripped out and missing. 

Fairey anticipated as much when he put up the artwork in April, saying "my expectation is that my piece may get dissed" and "that’s the nature of street art — it’s democratic. ... I look at it as very much the same as free speech."

Nonetheless, many are bothered by the fact that the mural been reduced to an eyesore.

"I'm dismayed, because it’s a work of art that’s been vandalized," said Jack Lechner, 47, of Morningside Heights, who scoped out the damage on Thursday morning.

"No matter what you think of Shepard Fairey, he’s a serious artist who devoted time to this. I happen to like it."

Fairey earned universal renown in the 2008 with his "HOPE" portrait of President Barack Obama, and put up the Houston Street mural to accompany his May exhibition at Deitch Projects in SoHo.

The city Department of Buildings subsequently ruled the piece an illegal billboard advertising his show and slapped it with a citation for being built without permits. A DOB spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment regarding the status of the mural and its removal.

Regardless, critics moved forward with their own unofficial offensive by tearing gaping holes in the wall, which was first made famous by a mural from pop artist Keith Haring in the 1980s.

"It’s hatred. I think it’s bulls—-," said Nate Appleman, executive chef at the new hotspot Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria on the Bowery, which sits directly across the street from the mural.

"Why would you ever want someone as an artist not to succeed? It’s lame."

Still, others thought the ripped-out sections — which reveal portions of the previous mural by the Brazilian street art duo Os Gêmeos behind it — offered a curious effect that may intrigue some observers.

"To me, as an artist, in a way it adds interest," said Nancy Kogel, 62, of the East Village. "What’s underneath it?"

In this instance, she continued, the vandalism may make the mural more interesting, with the old mural showing through and no real explanation for the destruction.

"If it’s defaced, people tend not to want to look at it," Kogel said. "Maybe it adds drama to it, and wonder. Why did people do that?"

And despite his disapproval of the vandalism, Lechner agreed with Fairey’s assessment of street art as ultimately fleeting.

"He knows that it’s open to the elements,” Lechner said. "He has to be embracing the ephemeral nature of this."