Amid the lingerie ads and illuminated stock quotes, Times Square now also boasts images of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" and Andy Warhol's "Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato)."
They are part of Art Everywhere US, a project that will present 58 works of American art in 50,000 displays across the United States this month. They are appearing on billboards as well as posters on subway platforms and bus shelters.
The idea came from British impresario Richard Reed, co-founder of the Innocent Drinks beverage company, who launched the project in the United Kingdom last year. He said it all started when he stumbled onto an art piece on the wall of a bleak street in London, and he thought it looked much more compelling than an ad.
“I used to work in advertising, I love advertising, but posters don't have to be there just to convey commercial messages,” he said. “They are a way for us as a nation to have a conversation with ourselves and to transmit thoughts and feelings and information and I thought maybe we can use it to show the country's art.”
Art Everywhere US was organized by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, in collaboration with five American museums: the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
The billboard space was all donated, but the estimated cost of the project is $100 million.
The 58 images were drawn from the collections of the five participating museums, after an online vote by the general public.
Maxwell Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, said he hopes the initiative will increase museum attendance, but he did not have a percentage in mind.
“I don’t think we got down to that science,” he said. “The conversations people will be having across the country will, we hope, prompt the desire to go visit a museum.”
On a visit to Times Square Monday, a tourist from Portugal, Isabel Moura, was pleased to see artworks.
“I just recognized Edward Hopper, because that is one of my favorite paintings,” she said. Then, pointing to another image, she added, “And I am interested also in knowing who is the couple that appeared in that billboard over there.”
That couple — of a stern-faced farmer holding a pitchfork standing next to his wife —is the one made famous by Grant Wood's "American Gothic."