by Shana Nys Dambrot:
Los Angeles has a complicated history with public art, to say the least. And our relationship with the outdoor advertising industry is no less complicated. Why are ugly and brash billboard ads allowed to proliferate while murals are called eyesores and nuisances? In a city of drivers, why shouldn’t billboards and industrial walls be treated as sites for public art, and as such welcome the participation of our artists? I’ve no appetite to try unraveling that knot just now, however, I would like to acknowledge and applaud the efforts of some who work hard every day to straighten this out.
Earlier this Spring, Seventh Letter teamed up with ArtShareLA to bring Los Angeles new gallery work as well as an outdoor billboards project. The #ARTSHARELA project brought together 15 of today’s top contemporary artists as well as members of the Seventh Letter to transform Los Angeles billboards into an outdoor gallery throughout the city. This celebration of Street Art was curated by Casey Zoltan of Known Gallery, featuring gallery pieces & outdoor billboards from noted Los Angeles artists: Saber, Patrick Martinez, Rime, Victor Reyes, Pose, Sage Vaughn, Willie T, Shepard Fairey, Risk, Push, Revok, Zes, Sever, Augustine Kofie and Vizie.
The indoor and outdoor shows were both exceptional, which given the names involved is not surprising. What might come as more unexpected is how this show came to be, given the thorny and suspicious bureaucracy. Rick Robinson is not necessarily the only person on Earth who could pull this off, but he does seem to be the only one in a position to make it happen to whom it would even occur. He’s an artist and a businessman — worse, he’s an ad guy. But from his student days at art school in San Francisco to later apprenticeships with masters of modern messaging-and eventually international recognition as a visionary leader in the Out-of-Home Advertising industry, his multiple loves of communication, spectacle, beauty, and power fight for balance. In the ad world, Robinson champions beauty and purpose, public responsibility in terms of quantity and aesthetic quality, pioneering an industry-wide reconceptualization of outdoor as a, if not the, form of modern public art. His company, MacDonald Media, is known for being a powerful champion on behalf of enlightened use of what he calls The People’s Space. He basically told his clients that they’d be helping with this, as he’s done before. He calls the success of this project “the perfect marriage of private funds paying for public art. This is what digital advertising space will look like going forward, with space allotted for art.” And in the era of digital boards, adding art into the rotation is easier to talk corporations into supporting than ever.
Robinson very much credits the artist Saber with spearheading this particular project, but there’s a reason Saber knew he could count on Rick’s patronage — because Rick has done this sort of thing before. He started small, a bus shelter here, a museum campaign there… But by February of 2010, small was over. He was the “angel” behind the acclaimed MAK Center exhibition How Many Billboards? Art in Stead, which commissioned art from leading local artists and placed them on billboards throughout the city center. In her statement, Director Kimberli Meyer said, “The philosophical proposition of the exhibition is simple: art should occupy a visible position in the cacophony of mediated images in the city, and it should do so without merely adding to the visual noise. How Many Billboards? Art In Stead proposes that art periodically displace advertisement in the urban environment.” So that was right up his alley.
And then in August 2012, he teamed up with Daniel LaHoda of LA LA Gallery and LA Freewalls to produce the Public Works project. Here’s what he said at the time, “Although public space has certainly been used for the display of art exhibits before, the fact remains that it is far more common to see an advertisement on a billboard than a work of art. The debate over the rights to this use of public space has been an ongoing topic of conversation, with the voice of advertising taking precedence over art the majority of the time. The Public Works project defies the notion that these two entities must necessarily be in contention by engaging the out-of-home media community in direct support of the very artists who challenge it. I think the greatest Out-of-Home Media efforts result from Creative and Media working together to serve The People’s Space.” That’s all of us.
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Billboard locations as of 3-31-13