Fnnch, the local "street" artist whose honey bears long ago overstayed their welcome and who should maybe, I dunno, try something new art-wise, has made a yellow-and-blue honey bear as a fundraiser for Ukraine, and it all just feels like more self-promotion even if he's planning to give 50% of his proceeds to Ukraine.
Say what you will about the masked honey bears that popped up all over town two years ago just as the pandemic was shutting down most all of life — the kids liked em! they were a fun game for kids, in all those windows around the city! But these days, after fnnch's honey bear graphic has been used by the SFMTA, plastered on a historic SoMa leather bar, sold to Williams Sonoma to be printed on dishware and dish towels, and used for multiple fundraisers organized by fnnch for multiple causes, the images are beyond tired. And rote. And it's not clear who's still buying them, but there's clearly demand.
So without even delving into the arguments about privilege and gentrification that were made last year when fnnch controversially was given a mural commission by the SF LGBT Center — which was quickly replaced — the fact that fnnch decided to insert himself and the damn honey bears into the global conflict spurred by Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine seems just insanely trite and wrongheaded. (Remember when he, while being filmed by angry critics who questioned his right to take up so much space as a muralist that SF natives and artists of color could be using, claimed he too was an "immigrant" from Missouri?)
Add to that the fact that fnnch, and what he says is a four-person studio, is not donating his time and materials to the cause, and it's just that much tackier. (Or, as the Bold Italic put it, "all sorts of fucked up.") Instead, he pledged to donate 50% of proceeds, which he says would be his profit, after the cost of time and materials.
Fnnch announced the release of 30 limited edition Ukraine bears earlier this week, and he made some other cardboard versions that he encouraged people in SF to put up in their windows, as they did when he launched the Honey Bear Hunt two years ago, for pandemic-sad local families to enjoy like a scavenger hunt.
"Putting a Ukraine Bear in your window is a way to keep this issue top of mind in your own community and to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. I hope this can help in its own small way," fnnch wrote on Instagram.
The limited edition painted plywood bears, the last of which is still being auctioned on eBay with a current bid of $2,250, along with some $30 window versions, raised a total of $24,000 apparently, $12,000 of which fnnch said he'd be donating to the emergency aid organization Nova Ukraine. He said the limited edition bears sold out in less than three minutes on Wednesday. 100% of proceeds from the one painting on eBay, #30 of 30, he says, will go to Nova Ukraine.
In an Instagram defense, clearly in response to some of the outcry about the fact that only 50% of his proceeds are going to the Ukraine charity, fnnch writes, "The other 50% will cover the cost of materials and making the pieces in my studio, which employs 4 people and pays rent on an art space in San Francisco. I have run almost every fundraiser this way so that I can maximize my impact."
He continues, "My profit margin last year was <50%, so I am aiming to give something near 100% of profits; the math of profits is much more difficult than the math of sales, which is why I structure things this way. If you would like 100% of your funds to go to Nova Ukraine, I encourage you to either donate at novaukraine.org/donate."
There does seem to be a disconnect here between the seriousness of the Ukraine war, and the frivolity of these bears — and the fact that fnnch seems to do a lot of charity-hopping that mostly just gives him an excuse to make another themed bear for sale.
We could debate for days about art as a commodity, and how what fnnch is doing isn't so different from things Andy Warhol did for profit, kitsch value, fun, and meta commentary on art itself. As the recent Warhol Diaries series on Netflix shows, Warhol was well aware, through much of his career, about how to commodify himself and his art, and he made that part of his art.
But yeah, fnnch is no Warhol, and this all feels kind of craven, even if many are going to say that this is well intentioned — and indeed there are a whole lot of likes and positive comments for his Ukraine Bear project on Instagram, despite his many detractors.
It certainly does seem like there'd be a lot less vitriol about the honey bears if fnnch had just not kept pumping these things out, using them as fundraisers, refusing to switch things up, and overexposing himself.
Is he afraid his next stencil idea just won't be so well loved?
Related: Fnnch Mural Painted Over at LGBT Center; Honey Bears Targeted With Graffiti Because of Association With Gentrification