Officially kicked off in New York’s Times Square on Aug. 4, “Art Everywhere US” is aptly named. It places the images of 58 works of American art on billboards, in trains, on subway platforms and at bus stops – about 50,000 places, all told, in every state, throughout the month of August. Twitter was aflutter with the news on Aug. 1: Thomas Hart Benton's “Poker Night” had shown up in Minneapolis that day, as had a staircase bearing the faces of “American Gothic” in New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. On Sunday afternoon (Aug. 3), one person tweeted: “Spotted the #Nighthawks looking good in #Decatur, GA.”
The project was hatched by the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in collaboration with the billboard trade association as a means of to getting more people into museums. Once you’ve been enchanted by a billboard art work, the theory goes, you’ll want to see the real thing. The added hooked: The 58 “winning” images were chosen with the help the American public. Given a chance to vote on their favorites in April and May, they selected them from 100 possibilities offered by the five museums.
“Art Everywhere US” says it drew the idea from “Art Everywhere UK,” which took place in 2013. But the idea goes back further than that. In 2012, the Delaware Art Museum launched a similar in-state effort, drawing on its permanent collection, to celebrate its 100th year. Two years earlier, the Detroit Institute of Arts sprinkled framed, life-sized digital reproductions of 40 of its works all around its surroundings to mark its 125th anniversary. The DIA said at the time that it was inspired by a program of the National Gallery in London, which had placed reproductions of some of its masterpieces around Soho. That was 2005.
This, “Very Very Big Art Show," as its subtitle says, is catching on.