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Shoppers, tourists and office goers can now catch some art in Times Square en route to their destinations — as can travelers across the country.

Art Everywhere U.S. flipped its switch Monday morning illuminating digital billboards displaying 58 classic and contemporary works of American art through the end of the month.

Although the nationwide project’s launch was staged in the heart of Manhattan, its scope extends to all 50 states. Up to 50,000 digital and static displays on billboards on city streets, rural highways, bus shelters, subway platforms, dioramas in airports, videos in health clubs, trailers in movie theaters and more will make up the largest outdoor art show ever conceived.

Art Everywhere first came to life last year in the U.K., thanks to Richard Reed, who cooked up the idea on the way to work one morning. A former advertising executive who cofounded the smoothie company Innocent Drink, Reed was among the organizers milling around Times Square on Monday morning marveling at the American art, which spans 230 years. “It all started while I was walking to work on what was a fairly unattractive road. One day someone just placed a piece of art on a pubic wall. For 30 seconds, it really did put a smile on my face and it gave me such a lift,” Reed said.

That chance encounter spawned Art Everywhere U.K., which recently launched its second edition. The entrepreneur made a point of saying that the project has no advertisers, no sponsorship and no message. Nor is the art-infused effort tied in any way to the $750 million, 15-year-old juice company that he built and first dreamt up with two Cambridge University friends as an antidote to their hangovers. “It is purely an unfiltered celebration of art,” Reed said. “I’ve got no problem with advertising. I used to work in advertising but I think it’s important to take a break from advertising.…It’s not antiadvertising.” 

Nor is it meant to replace museums or art galleries. “Of course, there is no substitute to going to see the real and original work. I don’t know if it is like this in the U.S. but in the U.K., less than 10 percent of the population go to art galleries,” Reed said.

The 58 images of American art were culled with the help of executives in five major museums — the Art Institute of Chicago; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Those institutions then teamed up with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and its members to present Art Everywhere U.S. with input from artists, estates, foundations and rights agencies. A pubic vote was set up on the Web site for Art Everywhere U.S, which now serves as an interactive art gallery where visitors can read about the selected works, the history of art in the U.S. and scout out locations of specific works around the U.S.

Looking skyward in Times Square Monday morning as an image of a Robert Mapplethorpe photo, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and various other art flashed on the exterior of a nearby building, OAAA’s president and chief executive officer Nancy Fletcher said “millions of dollars” worth of advertising space has been provided for the project. Noting that any Times Square billboard space can cost $30,000 for one day, “it’s the most expensive space in the world,” she said. Organizers are considering taking the concept to Australia next, according to Fletcher.

Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” topped the list, but other artists include Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and Childe Hassam. As part of the project’s social media arm, select street-level displays, such as bus shelters and kiosks, feature Blippar interactive image recognition technology. Using the free Blippar app, passers-by can view the artwork through their mobile devices to unlock information including augmented reality experiences, audio guides and artist and museum content. In addition, an Instagram contest started Monday encouraging viewers to post selfies with Art Everywhere U.S. displays.

In New York for less than 24 hours, Reed was still marveling about the New York launch while lounging by the pool at Soho House Monday afternoon. “Of course, America has done it bigger and better than we have in Britain. I was told here you can travel coast to coast to see the art,” Reed said. “But this is all about flooding our streets with art and making it easy for everyone to do.”

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