In today's image-saturated-everything, truly unforgettable images, those that slow us down enough to interrupt our day to day are increasingly difficult to surface from the rough. The Billboard Creative aims to change that. Founded in 2012, the project connects artists with mass audiences by displaying their images on billboards in some of Los Angeles' most heavily trafficked intersections for an entire month. In 2015, they turned LA into what they described as an "open air gallery" with forty-five works ranging from established artists like Ed Rusha, to emerging artists like Shannon Rose. This year's exhibition, up through the beginning of January 2017, is curated by artist Mona Kuhn, and continues TBC's tradition with 45 artists of varying disciplines. We interviewed Kuhn to learn more about the project and her curatorial process, and we've included some of our photography-based highlights below.
Jon Feinstein: How did the TBC project start?
Mona Kuhn: It was Adam Santelli, The Billboard Creative's founder, who came up with the idea and set this project into motion. Back in 2011 Adam received a call from an AD agency that was trying to unload remnant billboards to artists. But even at a discounted rate, the boards were still too expensive for an artist to rent. However, a thought popped into Adam’s head: how wonderful would it be to exhibit artworks on billboards for a wide audience of people driving by everyday? So Adam tested the idea and rented one billboard to display his own artwork for a month, and to his surprise noticed how people noticed and even interacted with it. Today, TBC is a non profit organization with one mission: to use remnant billboards and turn them into public art. Two years ago, Adam invited me to step in as an LA-artist and curator. During my first year, we brought artists like Ed Ruscha, Jack Pierson, Andrew Bush, Kim McCarthy, among many. And this year I reached out to Alex Prager and Paul McCarthy as our main supporters. Our goal is to balance the fresh and emerging voices with those better known, in ways that both can benefit from each other. This year we have 45 billboards with artworks coming up in Los Angeles, with one mission, to stop traffic with art!
JF: Why LA, and why now? Do you see this expanding into other cities?
MK: TBC receives submissions from artists in the LA art scene but also artists from all over the world. Billboards, like palm trees and freeways, are common elements of Los Angeles’s cityscape. This is also a city known for its car culture. The vast majority spends hours a day commuting back and forth. So it is a natural progression to wish to reach out to the audience using the elements already available. The result is an urban exhibition of artworks displayed on 45 billboards across the city. It is an exciting convergence of available infrastructure and an almost unlimited audience. Yes, I can imagine this in other cities, such as Detroit, or even other countries such as Cuba for example. The ideas and wishes are there, it is just a matter of time.
JF: How did you go about selecting the artists for the Billboard Creative Show? What were you looking for?
MK: A billboard exhibition can be a challenging proposition. We’re competing for attention within a busy urban setting and an audience mostly inside their cars commuting. My first step was to observe traffic and study audience behavior. There were two distinct situations observed: people would be either driving by swiftly, or completely stuck in a traffic jam. Considering the first scenario, my intention is to grab their attention by surprise with graphically strong artworks, pieces that are easy to read and understand in a relatively short amount of time. That was the case with artworks selected from artists such as Alex Prager, Simon Davidson, Yannick Fournie, among others. But I also saw a need to reach out to an audience who might be stuck in a traffic jam, feeling somewhat impatient and helpless. I thought about artworks that had the power to transport my thoughts momentarily away from that jam. Some of the works selected were more poetic like Margeaux Walter, Ira Lombardia, and Maxine Helfman. Others more energetic like Brian Ida, Ruben Natal-San Miguel, to name a few. All works had a presence and a unique power to transport my thoughts somewhere else. That is what I had in mind when selecting them.
JF: This seems like an effective way to broaden the scope of who engages with art, beyond the whitebox and beyond the virtual/online world. What's the response been so far?
MK: During that time, he observed curious people interacting with the billboard; pedestrians stopped by to look at the board, a couple of people even took selfies with it. It was really interesting to see the idea come to life. So far, we’ve received very positive feedback from the artist community. There is open and positive communication going on. It’s fun to observe it taking on a life of its own. Have you seen the post of Paul McCarthy posing next to his billboard with the two main actresses in his movie? Check out my insta @monakuhnstudio.
JF: How does the TBC App work?
MK:Think about the audio tour in a museum, and now bring that tool outside of the institutional walls of a museum and into the hands of a vast audience in the streets of LA.
Considering our billboard exhibition that takes place at major junctions across the city, including Sunset & Vine, Beverly & Laurel, and Hollywood & Western, we needed a guided tour for the audience. That is what the APP is about, a way for the audience to know where each artwork is located, information about the individual artists, as well as an archive of the billboards from past shows.
You can find the info here:
JF: Your most widely known for your own work/photography. How does the curatorial process relate to your own work?
MK: My personal creative process and the curatorial projects are two separate activities, which I am equally curious about. The curatorial process only relates to the personal work, if you think of it as inversely proportionate. While one is intuitive, intimate and introspective, the other follows a defined criteria, is social and extrovert in nature. It is my love for the arts that brings both together, and the understanding that together we can be more. We need more artists, more writers, more musicians and creatives to lift us from our mundane routines.
JF: Tell me about the "blind submission process”
MK: I selected the works based on the artwork only. I did not have the name of the artists together with the works. It was all based on the artwork standing on its own. Then the final tweaks were based on bringing a balance to the group of 45 artworks. It was not an easy task, but I would do it all over again.