City of the Spectacle

By

Published April 29, 2009

Billboards are cluttered with wheatpaste ads for TopShop or Terry Richardson’s campaign for Belvedere, indie album releases or forthcoming horror films. Occasionally a witty advert will cause us to think, like about what to buy or where we should eat next. But generally, we pass the plywood facades that go up to Bandaid a construction site or dilapidated building on legally-owned property, and without even thinking about it, we buy something or eat something!

When Jordan Seiler found out that many of the billboards operated by monopolistic (and very profitable) advertising company NPA Outdoor were in fact illegal, and for the most part ignored by the city, he took action. Last week, Seiler and his arts group PublicAdCampaign took back walls for artists and the public at large, an act of détournement intended to shed light on the illegal nature of these advertising structures and propose alternative visions of public communication. Their aim was to generate discussion about who the public serves by organizing an ad space take over. 26 whitewashers in orange worker vests painted over 120 sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn with cans of white paint. A team of 50 artists revisited the site the same day to fill the space with their work, however each saw fit. Painters like Lauren Doe turned her delicate drawings into wheatpaste posters that danced down the billboard outside of the Bowery Bar & Grill, and recession-inspired street campaign Enjoy Banking (an anonymous group reputedly related to the former Canal Chapter and Stanton Chapter) warped their collective tags into colorful imagery at sites like Houston and Mulberry and Kenmare and Bowery. The billboards were in effect turned into street canvases, art living outside white boxes and in the public arena. Although one assault team was arrested, New Yorkers appeared to mostly ignore the law-breakers. The NPA Outdoor, however, retaliated by having their teams put their illegal advertising back up early Sunday morning. Will this wildposter war continue? Keep your eyes open.