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Shepard Fairey's Mural Taken Down 'Like the Berlin Wall,' Says Artist

By Patrick Hedlund | August 27, 2010 6:24pm | Updated on August 28, 2010 8:49am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — Shepard Fairey's mural has finally been taken down and converted into commemorative chunks, leading the street artist to jokingly compare his work to the Berlin Wall.

The much-hyped mural at the corner of East Houston Street and the the Bowery was removed this week after four months of enduring assaults by everyone from graffiti writers to vandals who ripped large holes into the wall, which was originally made famous by Keith Haring.

Fairey told DNAinfo that a woman had approached him in San Diego, where he was recently putting up another installation, with a piece of the Lower East Side mural and asked him to autograph it.

"Just like the Berlin Wall," he joked.

Fairey — known for his iconic “HOPE” image of President Barack Obama — thought that the attention drawn to his piece made the work a success.

“I feel like when people are indifferent toward what I’m doing, that’s when I’m doing something wrong,” the artist said by phone from his Los Angeles studio, noting that the questions it created over commercialism in art and even gentrification of the area helped the artist accomplish his goal.

“It just shows, whether people want to destroy it because they dislike it or they want a souvenir, if it’s creating a reaction, that’s a good result.”

The decay of Fairey’s mural started with a few scattered attacks after it went up in April, followed by taggers unleashing on the wall and others who simply tore out large chunks of the piece.

The repeated beatings eventually forced the mural’s bottom half to be covered in plywood, which was promptly set upon by more vandals and resulted in someone spray-painting a large phallus across the bottom portion.

But even the most immature of attacks only added to the art, Fairey explained.

“They altered it in a way that was powerful,” Fairey said of the crude scrawl. “That might sound silly or ridiculous, but… I just like the idea of people taking action and empowering themselves.”

Fairey acknowledged that the piece did help promote his accompanying art exhibit “May Day” at Deitch Projects — something the city deemed illegal when it slapped the mural with a violation for unlawful advertising.

“I think that it created a lot of buzz for my work and the show that I was doing,” he said, telling all the street art purists who call him a “sell out” that his commercial design work has allowed him to fund his various projects.

“That’s a spot that it seems almost every New Yorker, or everyone that lives in Manhattan, is going to go by once a week,” he added of its visibility.

Fairey was also happy at the turnout he got while installing the mural, with everyone from hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz to Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman stopping by to cheer him on.

The mural was supposed to stay up until the end of the year, but Fairey said he declined an offer to return to New York to re-do the piece.

“It was better to just let it decay and let it go,” he said. “It had plenty of time out there, and it was documented well.”

Fairey confirmed a rumor that fellow street artist Barry McGee (aka “Twist”) will be next up on the wall, adding he’s happy with his contribution to the iconic site.

“I was proud of the design and execution of the piece, the content of the message of the piece,” Fairey said. “I felt that I did the history of that location justice.”