Art Works Blog

Art, Coming to a Billboard Near You

Times Square isn’t picky about the billboards it displays. A capitalist’s dreamscape, there are advertisements for Broadway shows, movies, beverages, underwear, cars—if you can buy it, they’ll promote it. But in a few days, one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations will be selling something a little different to the American people: art.

On August 4th, Art Everywhere U.S. will launch in Times Square, beginning a nationwide campaign to create the country’s largest outdoor art exhibition. The concept, which debuted in the UK last summer, will plaster billboards, bus shelters, shopping malls, and subway stations with 58 American artworks, all chosen by a public vote. The works come from the collections of the initiative’s five organizing museums, all of which are Blue Star Museum participants: the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Max Anderson, the Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art and the campaign spokesman, said part of the initiative’s goal is to provide people with at least a general sense of American art history. “We hoped that out of this would come a greater visual literacy on the part of the American public about the breadth and variety of American art,” he said. “Lamentably, art has fallen off the radar as something that is part of public education largely. It depends on the courage of a few teachers and principals to make it part of a curriculum. So it's become something very foreign.”

American Gothic by Grant Wood

Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930. Oil on Beaver Board. 30 3/4 x 25 3/4 in. (78 x 65.3 cm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection. Art © Estate of Grant Wood/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

This foreignness, he thinks, is precisely what makes the prospect of visiting an art museum so intimidating for so many: we fear what we don’t understand. But by inserting art into the prosaic landscapes of our daily routines, he hopes Art Everywhere will provide people with a sense of familiarity, eventually making those museum walls seem more accessible and inviting.

“The American public is growing up in a context in which art is kept imprisoned in buildings—buildings, by the way, which might ask them what they know when they walk in the door, which might ask them to dress properly, that certainly ask them to be quiet, not to touch anything,” said Anderson. “There are so many proscriptions on the experience of art in a public institution that it's intimidating to people. Our job is to try and reduce those barriers to the extent that we can, and by making a public, cross-country, national invitation this way, we'd like to make some inroads in changing that.”

Although Anderson expects a few critics will decry the campaign as “cheapening” art, he regards this as simple fallacy. From works inside cathedrals to frescoes and sculptures, art bears a long history of democratic, often outdoor, consumption. It’s time, Anderson thinks, to remind the country that American art is theirs, and not the domain of some amorphous elite.

“[Art] isn't something we need to limit to the interiors of climate-controlled, secure museums,” Anderson said. “I hope that [people] will consider the ways in which creativity can find a voice in all sorts of contexts in American life.”

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