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Friday, August 30, 2013

Billboard Art

Found on Redondo Beach, August 21, 2005.
The billboard becomes the work of art, reminiscent of Picasso and Jackson Pollock.
The artist makes his point, however.
Things change. Along with everything else, art changes. When two things change, complementing one another, those changes can often be quite important and long-lasting. As the title suggests, two such changes involve art (of course) and, in this case, billboards. We all have some idea how art has and is changing, so let's start with the billboards. Billboards along our major highways and cluttering our urban thoroughfares largely came hand-in-hand with the automobile. That means they've been around about a hundred years, give or take a decade or so. For most of that time, they've been detested, especially by the upper middle-class "arty" community, who have often gone so far as to seek having them banned or at least removed in individual cases. In recent years, they've become even more obnoxious, taking the form of LED screens, lighting up and moving. However, it is this new, digital, development which actually complements the changes in art.

Billboard art protesting art, 1970s, a costly endeavor paid for by feminist
artists calling themselves the Guerrilla Girls, hence the gorilla mask
adorning Ingres' famous Grand Odalisque (1814).
Though primarily used in advertising everything from soup to nuts (literally), billboards also have long been used to urge, even demand, social change. Sometimes they're more public relations than confrontational, but very often they take on the primary function of all great art--they communicate creatively (above), and they deliver their message "smack in your face" again and again as you drive by. Far more people see them than ever visit art museums in a given year. Traditionally, however, from an artist's perspective, such an exposure forum comes with one prohibitive fact--billboards cost money. First there's the billboard rental fee (usually for 30 days), then the cost of creating the temporary image itself (on paper or plastic). Those factors, however, are where digital imaging has made a difference. Billboard companies often donate their LED signboards for up to twenty-four hours to various art groups while digital artist need never touch costly paint, brush, and canvases in creating their images. Thus, both are virtually free.
Chicago's Billboard Art Project LED screen allows several artists to share the limelight.
Several major cities in the U.S. have what are called Billboard Art Projects (above) with long waiting lists of artist applicants. These groups serve to facilitate such exposure for deserving artists with important things to say and the genius to say them, in an eye-catching, creative manner. In the U.K. it's called Art Everywhere (click here for video), and in that country emphasizes the exposure of important British artists from the past on traditional billboards (below). As art and the way we think about art (or in some cases don't think about it) changes, there develops the need to reach out to those who have never (or very rarely) set foot inside a museum or art gallery. Whether it's old art or new, billboards can fill this need. They provide artists with huge, bright, splashy, new canvases which, unlike framed paintings in art museums, can not only move themselves, but also move how and what people think. That is the definition of art at its best.

Lady of Shallot, 1888, John William Waterhouse.
In England, the Tate Museum takes to the billboard.

TOO MUCH, 2011, Andrew Willett. He gets his point across, but it's rather blunt.

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