Billboards Become Public Art In Los Angeles

Thinking of California today. The public art project covered below is installed in L.A., not very far from the mass shooting in San Bernardino yesterday. The 355th mass shooting in America this year. I interviewed curator Mona Kuhn before the news broke. She said she hopes her project will “stop traffic with art.” She was speaking lightheartedly, but now the quote has a shadow. Maybe if you’re driving around L.A. today, one of these artworks will help you process or cope with the shooting.

Dozens of unused billboards in Los Angeles will transform into public art pieces this week.

The project comes by way of the Billboard Creative, an L.A.-based nonprofit, and is curated by artist Mona Kuhn. The first of 33 billboards were unveiled Dec. 1, and the rest will go up in the coming days, according to TBC.

“The main idea was, in a nutshell, to stop traffic with art,” Kuhn said. “[We] wanted to bring maybe a seed of thought for an audience outside of the institution walls, or outside of the gallery walls – a wider audience of pedestrians and drivers passing by from all walks of life.”

To achieve this effect, Kuhn looked specifically for two types of works. She wanted some that are graphically bold and attention-grabbing – she cited billboards by Marco Sgarbossa, Ed Ruscha and Mario Muller.

Kuhn selected other pieces that are, in contrast, “very delicate,” in order to “transport” drivers to another realm, away from the traffic they’re probably stuck in. She cited billboards by Thomas C. Chung, Kim McCarty and Geoffrey Ellis.

“All the works were selected so they can hold their strength in the billboard, and hold their presence in this urban environment, because we are competing with a lot of urban noise,” she explained. “I feel really strongly that all of the 33 pieces deserve the exposure of a billboard.”

The TBC show is Kuhn’s first as a public art curator. She said the project appealed to her in part because it was independently funded.

The costs of image production and renting billboard space were generated by artist submission fees ($26), with an assist from discounted rates from the billboard company Clear Channel, according to a TBC spokesperson.

“[If] the City needs to approve it, it always feels like a huge tour de force to get that through and years of proposals,” Kuhn said. “What I find to be so exciting about this project is that within six months… as a community of artists, we were able to make it happen.”

Independent funding also meant that the project was beholden to the rules of the billboard companies, not City law/rugulations or public review boards. According to Kuhn, the billboards nixed violence and nudity (although, herself a photographer of bodies, Kuhn noted, “I was able to squeeze in two nudes that are not really nude, and for me, they’re my personal little victory.”)

Kuhn seemed confident that, despite being artist-funded, TBC’s model does not guarantee a Rich Old White Dude catalogue of works, for two reasons: first, the modest submissions fee; second, the fact that she chose pieces name-blind.

“It really was just the work itself,” Kuhn said, adding that she was especially proud of the younger voices represented, including artist Shannon Rose who is currently working towards her BFA.

Images of all works to be installed on the billboards are available on TBC’s website, along with location information for each piece.

The nonprofit has set up a mobile map of the project with ArtMoi, an artwork registry app that includes a public catalogue of public art.

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