On Aug. 4, digital billboards in New York's Times Square will flash with renowned American art. It will be a brief but shining respite from the blunt force with which commercial imagery regularly bombards our psyches by means of billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more.
The reprieve comes courtesy of Art Everywhere, a collaboration between five major U.S. museums and the Outdoor Advertising Assn. of America. The museums offered up a selection of their works for a public vote. Fifty-eight images were chosen and will be displayed in nearly 50,000 commercial locations in all 50 states, beginning Aug. 4 with Times Square and ending Aug. 31. People in the L.A. area might happen across images on one of 100 bus shelters or 25 billboards.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art spokeswoman Miranda Carroll calls the experiment a "holiday for the eyes," and says she's excited about the prospect of fine art spiriting people away from the routines of everyday life.
LACMA is the West Coast's representative on the list of participating museums, which also includes the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Eleven of the 58 works hail from LACMA, including one of Andy Warhol's famous Campbell's soup cans, Ed Ruscha's glossy Hollywood sign, Mark Rothko's telltale swaths of color and George Bellows' earthy depictions of city life. Two are photographs: a porcelain-white magnolia blossom by early 20th century photographer Imogen Cunningham and a portrait of a black man and a white man standing cheek-to-cheek by 1960s and '70s pop-culture chronicler Robert Mapplethorpe.
The white man in the Mapplethorpe print is a drag queen known as Constance Cooper, who hosts a bawdy Thursday-night party each week at the Chateau Marmont Hotel. Twenty years ago, when the photo was taken, Cooper went by his given name, Robert Sherman, and was not in drag.
To Cooper, Art Everywhere represents more than just an opportunity for the public to soak up art outside the confines of a traditional museum.
"I'm delighted that this image will be on billboards and bus stops, and that people who would never have thought to crack open a book of Robert's pictures will see this," Cooper said. "To me, it speaks volumes about how far society has come in its acceptance of those of us who might be perceived to be on the fringes of 'societal norms.' It's a beautiful thing."