How Many Billboards? Art In Stead

  • Exhibition
  • Publication
Locations around Los Angeles

How Many Billboards? Art In Stead was a large-scale urban exhibition debuting twenty-one new works by leading contemporary artists, presented simultaneously on billboards throughout Los Angeles beginning in February 2010.

The exhibition was organized by MAK Center Director Kimberli Meyer, with co-curators Lisa Henry, Dr. Nizan Shaked, and Dr. Gloria Sutton, and public art consultant Sara Daleiden. The exhibition was accompanied by an overview exhibition and orientation station at the Schindler House.

Artists working in the vein of California’s conceptual art movement were commissioned to create a new work that critically responded to the medium of the billboard and interpret its role in the urban landscape. Investigating art as an idea as well as art as a media for critical intervention, the exhibition highlighted the interaction of Pop, conceptualism and architecture in Los Angeles since the late 1960s.




Kimberli Meyer

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.

Billboards are a dominant feature of the landscape in Los Angeles. Thousands line the city’s thoroughfares, delivering high-end commercial messages to a repeat audience. Given outdoor advertising’s strong presence in public space, it seems reasonable and exciting to set up the possibility for art to be present in this field. The sudden existence of artistic speech mixed in with commercial speech provides a refreshing change of pace. Commercial messaging tells you to buy; artistic messaging encourages you to look and to think.

Time and space allotted for artworks in commercial space is limited, and the sea of signs is vast. How can a billboard exhibition make a strong enough impact? Most importantly, the art cannot be passive. It must take a strategic approach, be critically oriented, and explore the billboard as a site.

Artistically and culturally, Los Angeles is an aggregate of dynamic histories. Experimental architecture has been active here since the early twentieth century, radical art since the 1950s. An acute awareness of urban space has always influenced both avant-garde architectural and art practices in Los Angeles. Southern California’s overlaps and interweaves of architectural adventurism, pop, and Conceptual Art have generated rich environments for artistic production and yielded influential bodies of art. My co-curators and I felt that these So-Cal syntheses are relevant for the dynamics of pop-public space in Los Angeles today.

It’s a win-win situation.

Los Angeles public space begs for smart art to break up the monotony of everyday media fare, and the billboard provides a fertile position for artists who work critically and site-responsively to test their ideas in urban media space. Contemporary art gains a momentarily broad audience, and city dwellers are extended a daily invitation to reflect and contemplate. Channels are opened for experimentation, innovation, and cultural exchange.

The MAK Center, the project partners, and I invite you to explore, enjoy, and tell us what you think.

Participating artists included Kenneth Anger, Michael AsherJennifer Bornstein, Eileen Cowin, Christina Fernandez, Ken Gonzales-Day, Renée Green, Kira Lynn Harris, John Knight, David Lamelas, Brandon Lattu, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Kori Newkirk, Yvonne Rainer, Martha Rosler, with Josh Neufeld, Allen Ruppersberg, Allan Sekula, Susan Silton, Kerry Tribe, James Welling, lauren woods.



The exhibition followed nearly a decade of discussion amongst city residents and officials about billboards and their environmental impact on the city of Los Angeles. How Many Billboards? investigated the political and artistic implications of these media surfaces that saturate the city’s landscape, while also offering an alternative vision for public art display in Los Angeles, in which the city becomes the context for exhibition.

How Many Billboards? Art In Stead was generously supported by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation Exhibition Award. Additional funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs; the City of West Hollywood Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission; and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. In-kind support came from Rick Robinson, MacDonald Media; Clear Channel Outdoor; CBS Decaux; CBS Outdoor; Fuel Outdoor; General Outdoor Advertising; Regency Advertising, and Van Wagner Communications.

MAK Center Programs Coordinator Anthony Carfello was responsible for production and management of How Many Billboards?

Project partners included ForYourArt, LA INC, MacDonald Media, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro), and PS Los Angeles.

Advisory Board members included Anne Bray, Freewaves; Karen Constine, ForYourArt; Susan Gray, Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles; Pat Gomez, City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs; Letitia Fernandez Ivins, Los Angeles County Arts Commission Civic Art Program; Bridgid Labonge, graphic artist; Emi Fontana, West of Rome; Michael McDowell, LA INC.; Sarah MacPherson, Hollywood Property Owners Alliance; Shannon Shelly, PS Los Angeles; Zipporah Lax Yamamoto, Metro; Rick Robinson, MacDonald Media; and Kristy Nichols, MacDonald Media.


Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger is a trailblazer of queer avant-garde film; he debuted his film Fireworks (1947) more than two decades before the landmark events of Stonewall in 1969. Numerous films that he has written and directed over the years have gone from underground to cult status. In Anger’s rich oeuvre, images function not only as symbols, visual icons, or indices, but also as affective strobes meant to amaze and hypnotize the viewer. In his billboard project, the word “ASTONISH” is spelled in all caps in bold, neon orange, sans serif font. The word fills most of the frame; the artist’s scripted signature in lilac hovers diagonally across the bottom corner. The design enhances the impact of the word “astonish” beyond its denotation, and its meaning is activated here in several different ways. It echoes Anger’s filmic strategy of montage as magic, where he employs consecutive or flashing images to enchant the audience. Here, a single word serves to bewitch. Yet, at the same time, the word informs the viewer about the action that is taking place, collapsing conventional art historical distinctions between affect and critical distance. Anger’s ambivalent relationship to the spectacle of Hollywood, visible in his films as well as in his famous book Hollywood Babylon (Paris, 1959), is here directed towards the media. “ASTONISH” can function as recognition of the media’s ability to astonish, as a critique of its power over the public, or perhaps, as a call for the media to step up its game and actually create something that can truly astonish. The multiple potential referents for the bold neon statement are raised to the power of two when cross-referenced with Anger’s signature. Commonly standing for presence, it plays at once on the outmoded modernist gesture of signing an artwork-evidence that “the artist has been here” and proof of the artwork’s originality, and on the notion of the autograph, which is alive and well in celebrity culture. Detached from the artist’s hand, processed, enlarged and reproduced, here, the commoditization of the autograph is amplified, reflecting the Postmodern emphasis on the multiple, the reproducible and the conceptual as modes of art-making, and the ways in which those practices have come to be bought and sold. — Nizan Shaked

LOCATION: Beverly Dr, north of Pico Blvd, on the west side of the street, facing southeast.
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Kenneth Anger (b. 1927) has been making films since 1947, and is internationally recognized as an influential force in avant-garde cinema. His films function as radical critiques of Hollywood film, often evoking pop culture icons within occult settings and depicting youth counterculture engaged in scenes of violence and eroticism. Through his work, Anger explores themes of ritualistic transformation, utilizing heightened sensuality as well as exaggerated colors and imagery. He was recently the subject of a retrospective at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2009).

Michael Asher

Michael Asher works site-specifically: he answers an invitation to exhibit by analyzing the host venue, identifying key areas of interest, and instigating a proposition that responds to the exhibition site. Most of his works are singular exhibitions in museums; in the case of How Many Billboards?, the site of exhibition is advertising space. Asher’s piece is a reproduction of a 1959 print advertisement designed by Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach for the marketing of Volkswagen in the United States. “Think small” was the tagline in the ad and it became the concept of the campaign. Asher’s piece performs a kind of time travel, stretching back a half a century and replaying a historical campaign for our present consideration. When the “Think small” ads came out, America was firmly committed to a post-war economy perpetuated by the rapid growth of consumerism. Going against that grain, the “Think small” message encouraged investment in a reliable, affordable car rather than an oversized, flashy one. Visually and linguistically, the message of the campaign was to consume less, not more. Yet the ad’s critique of big consumerism performed well for corporate capitalism: many cars were sold, and the ad itself is credited with creating a sea change in the way advertising is created.

Asher’s choice of ads reflects several ideas. Firstly, the revisited ad can be read as a challenge to the excesses of consumer capitalism. The VW bug became the iconographic vehicle for a 1960s counter-culture, as its efficient approach to economy rang true with subcultures that were becoming aware of humanity’s impact on the planet. Today the “Think small” message resonates, as concerns with global sustainability are heightened, the U. S. grapples with a major economic crisis, and the model of unfettered growth, massive consumerism, and the debt that fuels such an economy are questioned. Secondly, its reinstallation prompts a comparison of art and advertisement, and suggests the influence of one upon the other. The use of white space, the composition of the picture plane, and the ironic tone, foreshadow developments to occur in contemporary art in the 1960s and after. Thirdly, the subject of the ad is a Volkswagen, which originated from Nazi Germany as a “people’s car” serving the dark ambitions of Adolf Hitler. Asher interrogates the transformation of VW from Nazi ideal to hippie mobile, reflecting, as he notes in an unpublished artist statement, on the “iconic and discursive status that constitutes its contemporary reception.” — Kimberli Meyer

LOCATION: Sunset Blvd, east of Micheltorena St, on the north side of the street, facing east.
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A lifelong Angeleno, Michael Asher ( (b. 1943 – d. 2012) was one of the pioneering figures of Conceptual Art in California. His influence derived from his subtly provocative installations in museums, including the Kunstverein, Hamburg; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Santa Monica Museum of Art (2008), as well as through his engagement with students in “post-studio” courses at California Institute of the Arts beginning in the early 1970s. Asher’s works became touchstones for contemporary artists and the discourse of “institutional critique.” His practice was not based on the creation of collectible or displayable objects, but rather elides the conventions of viewing and display, making the museum and gallery his medium.

Jennifer Bornstein

Since the late 1990s Jennifer Bornstein has been engaged in producing serialized images in a variety of media including sculpture, photography, 16mm film, and most recently, intaglio printing. In 2003, while doing research for a film project, Bornstein studied various 19th-century periodicals, in particular the engravings that illustrated these publications. That year she began the arduous task of learning the techniques of incising and copper-plate printing in order to generate intaglio prints that she often uses as studies for her films. Counterbalancing the “slow art” of the etching with the vehicular pace of billboard viewing is an example of how Bornstein’s conceptual rigor is infused with a sly sense of humor. For How Many Billboards? Bornstein produced an etching that was then copied and enlarged. A precious medium intended for close study at intimate range is now stretched incongruously across several yards and exposed to the elements. Its subject is an Eiki 16mm film projector atop a simple wood crate (an utilitarian material that often appears in Bornstein’s sculptures). The fragmentary words “The End” are projected solemnly across the muted darkness rendered by Bornstein’s meshwork of crosshatches signaling celluloid’s imminent demise in today’s digital environment. The words and gothic type reverse engineer the technological progression of the history of media. Film’s death knell is delivered in the even more antiquated process of copper-plate etching. Bornstein’s font choice also underscores typography’s signficance within the history of Conceptual Art. Ed Ruscha’s The End (1991) shows the same phrase and font; the bottom register is cut off and repeated at the top, mimicking film’s movement in frames and is emblematic of Conceptual Art’s ability to generate metaphorical meaning from words and type. Bornstein’s expertise in copperplate etching offers a significant counterpoint to the narrative of de-skilling often identified with Ruscha and West Coast Conceptualism. — Gloria Sutton

LOCATION: Sunset Blvd, west of Martel Ave, on the south side of the street, facing east.
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Based in Los Angeles, Jennifer Bornstein (b. 1970) received her MFA from University of California, Los Angeles. Her work explores the possibility of setting up physical and conceptual interactions between people, and between bodies and objects, heightening the viewer’s awareness of the relationship between spectator and performer. A filmmaker, Bornstein is equally well known for her small, detailed etchings and her evocative studies for films that she may or may not make. She has had solo exhibitions at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; greengrassi, London; Gavin Brown, New York; Studio Guenzani, Milan; Färgfabriken, Stockholm; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Eileen Cowin

The works of photographer and video artist Eileen Cowin range from dramatic photo tableaux to installations and multi-channel videos. Cowin’s conceptual approach to photography and video has not diminished her interest in human emotion, nostalgia, or even sentimentality. Her diverse body of work includes a commissioned billboard for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s expansive exhibition Made in California (2000). That billboard featured a poignant diptych called Yearning for Perfection II. In the first image two hands hold a photograph of a seascape; in the second a woman, her back to the camera, stands facing the sea. That image is a stark contrast to her contribution to How Many Billboards?. For the current exhibition, Cowin combines a cropped face with a single line of text. From the extreme right we see the partial profile of a white man with his mouth open. The words “I love you too,” printed in pink, float in the black expanse of the background. At billboard scale, the image is commanding yet ambiguous. Cowin elevates a familiar phrase to the point where we become aware of how subtle variations in tone and facial expression can drastically change a statement that seems so universal. The piece reveals Cowin’s interest in both intimacy and the disintegrating boundaries between public and private space. — Lisa Henry

LOCATION: Westwood Blvd, south of Olympic Blvd, on the east side of the street, facing north.
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Eileen Cowin’s (b.1947) photographs and videos investigate the relationship between image and text. Cowin’s works have been featured in numerous exhibitions throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States, including Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She studied with Aaron Siskind and Arthur Siegel at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, where she earned an MS in photography.

Christina Fernandez

The practice of Christina Fernandez combines genre photography with formats such as the photo-roman to tell histories and stories of migration and immigration. Working also in documentary and formal modes, her urban and landscape photography carry subtle social and political commentary through choice of subject matter, light, framing and focus on detail. Her billboard, Coldwell Couch, fuses two square-format photographs from her recent series Serano, capturing two distinct vantage points onto the characteristically Los Angeleno geography of an El Sereno neighborhood. Taken at the same site ten months apart, the two sides of the diptych are a complex meditation on our present socio-economic condition. In the left-hand photograph, a post displaying a Coldwell Banker Brokerage sign cuts across the foreground of the frame while, from a distance, an overturned loveseat echoes the shapes of houses sunk into a lush ravine of natural and cultivated vegetation. The warm tones of dry summer weed in the right-hand image indicate the passage of a significant amount of time, yet the couch is still there. Framed close-up, the couch’s bleached out pattern uncannily echoes the foliage of the castor bean plant behind it. The push-pull between the natural and the man-made is everywhere in this piece, reflecting the structure of its context. Los Angeles was the first American city built not on the European model, as were Chicago and New York, but on the Jeffersonian model of a center-less city in the midst of vast countryside. Refusing to “return to nature”-to either collapse or decompose-the couch turns into a ruin, a monument to the failure of the Homestead American Dream. At this moment in history, the Coldwell sign unavoidably evokes the collapse of the housing market and its far-reaching aftermath. — Nizan Shaked

LOCATION: Hollywood Blvd, west of Bronson Ave, on the south side of the street, facing west.
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Christina Fernandez (b. 1965) is a photographer/artist and educator who lives and works in Los Angeles. Fernandez earned an MFA. from California Institute of the Arts. Fernandez’s work examines the intersections between private and public space, personal and historical narratives, ex-urban and city spaces, and the cultural border and historical relationships between the United States and Mexico. Fernandez’s photographic works often utilize text or other methods of narration in which the more-than-personal narrative is of primary importance. Fernandez’s work was shown in recent group exhibitions including Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (traveling); This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in Los Angeles Photographs, Huntington Memorial Library and Gardens, San Marino (traveling); and Index: Conceptualism in California, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She is an associate professor of photography at Cerritos College.

Ken Gonzales-Day

The rigorous inter-disciplinary practice of artist and scholar Ken Gonzales-Day brings historical research and theoretical analysis of representation to bear on his practice of photography. At the same time, his knowledge as a practitioner provides the visual insight required by his scholarly projects. His book Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke University Press, 2006) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It investigates, among other things, the role of photography in its relationship to the discourse of race and the dire consequences of racism. Gonzales-Day’s billboard project brings these histories into the present, reflecting upon how residues of oppression linger in varying forms, despite the many changes that society continues to undergo. His subjects, Bust of a Young Man (bronze with silver inlay eyes, by the Italian artist Antico) and Bust of a Man (black stone-pietra da paragone, Florence 1758, by the Englishman Francis Harwood), are owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum. Gonzales-Day photographed them as part of his Profile Series during a residency as a Getty Research Institute Scholar. The historical sculptures refer to the artistic styles and philosophies of the Renaissance and the Neoclassical period, both of which in their turn revived the achievements of Greek and Roman culture. The imaged sculptures serve as a reminder that despite the manifold social advancements we have witnessed, it is still with the vocabulary of the past that we speak today. The figures in profile also allude to the dawn of photography and the earliest technologies used to mechanically reproduce human likeness. In the third image, a Photoshop composite of the figures facing each other ignites an erotic charge as they stare into one another’s eyes. As photographs of sculptures engaged in a virtual erotic dynamic, these profiles are thrice removed from their human referents, a fact which is emphasized by the brilliant highlights that bounce off the material-objects’ surfaces. — Nizan Shaked

LOCATION: Olympic Blvd, west of Gramercy Pl, on the west side of the street, facing east.
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Ken Gonzales-Day (b. 1964) is a Los Angeles-based artist and writer. He studied painting and art history at the Pratt Institute before receiving his MFA in photography at University of California, Irvine. His practice often takes a conceptual lens to historically charged imagery, investigating the often violent and disruptive social and political past of the United States. His book, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935, was published by Duke University Press in 2006. Gonzales-Day is currently a professor at Scripps College.

Renée Green

Renée Green’s billboard features a grey seascape with outcroppings of land visible in the near distance. Dark water conforms to tracks made by the kind of ferry that shuttles tourists and commuters. The foreground is occupied by the outlines of several figures standing at the rear of the vessel. The image centers on a muted sun trying to break through dense cloud cover. This brooding, timeless scene is evocative of nineteenth century Romantic literature and painting, which developed in the wake of Western European industrialization and urban sprawl. However, two bands of text framing the image-“Strangers Begin Again” in yellow and “Native Strangers Hosting” in red-interrupt any sense of reverie. Like many of the banner pieces that Green has consistently produced since the early 1990s, the phrasing is purposely ambiguous, yet pointed. “Strangers” and “natives” are loaded terms. The status of each is never fixed but changes almost cyclically, especially when considered in terms of geological time rather than the recent histories of nations or states. The word “hosting” also carries multiple meanings. It demarcates the roles of visitor and guest, but also refers to a biological relationship in which a parasitic organism drains its host for its own survival.

The image is a still from a film that is part of a recent project by Green called Endless Dreams and Water Between (2009), which includes four film projections, sound works, banners, and drawings. Together these works trace several fictional characters’ engagements with the islands of Manhattan; Majorca, Spain; the various isles dispersed around the San Francisco Bay and the California Pacific Rim; and the San Francisco peninsula itself, where Green currently lives and works. Green calls our attention to these landmasses precisely because they do not typically fulfill the fantasy of tropical exoticism. Each is insular and paradoxically cosmopolitan. Most importantly for Green, they are situated within bodies of water that connect human bodies, giving rise to themes of travel and migration. Green’s ongoing interest in cultural flows and personal histories link this maritime project to her other important discursive works that use personal memories and narrative to pry open monolithic histories such as Import/Export Funk Office (1992). An archive-like installation and CD ROM project, Import/Export Funk Office traces the international dispersion of hip hop and its cultural and political significance through the presentation of books, magazines, photographs and videos much of which Green pulled from the personal library of the German cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen. — Gloria Sutton

LOCATION: La Brea Ave, north of Lexington, on the west side of the street, facing south.
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Renée Green (b.1959) is an artist, filmmaker, and writer who lives and works in San Francisco and New York. A survey of 20 years of her work was organized in 2009 by the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne. In 2008, the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, organized a retrospective of her films. Selected solo exhibition venues include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Dallas Museum of Art; De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam; Vienna Secession; Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; and National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Her work has been included in many group exhibitions including Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and International Center of Photography, New York. Her work has also been present at the Whitney, Venice, Johannesburg, Kwangju, Berlin, Sevilla and Istanbul Biennials, as well as in Documenta 11. She has published essays in Transition, October, Frieze, Flash Art, Texte zur Kunst, Spex, and Sarai Reader, among other magazines and journals.

Kira Lynn Harris

Kira Lynn Harris‘s work centers on architecture, space, light, and perception, often resulting in installations and large-scale drawings. For her billboard piece, Harris has chosen to highlight an icon of Los Angeles, the Watts Towers, built by Simon Rodia between approximately 1921 and 1954. The work is internationally known and loved as a prime work of “outsider art.” A citizen’s committee saved it from the wrecking ball in the late 1950s, and today is owned by the State of California and administered by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The Watts Towers Arts Center, also overseen by the city of Los Angeles, was founded in the aftermath of the Watts Riots of 1965 in an attempt to use art to heal a battered community. More recently, the Watts House Project, initiated by artist Edgar Arceneaux and defined on the project website as a “collaborative artwork in the shape of a neighborhood redevelopment,” has added new art activities to the neighborhood. Harris’s billboard points to this aggregation of art-centered structures.

Her choice of subject reflects Harris’s love of the towers themselves, her interest in artworks that do not easily reside in one discipline or another, and her concern with the marginalization of community-based art projects from the mainstream art world. By placing the image of the towers on a billboard, she is pointing to a landmark that is both iconic yet possibly underappreciated in Los Angeles, and certainly in great need of financial support. The words “Community as Art” in boldface suggest that community building and place-making can be viable art-making practices. The third element, ghostly variations of phrases that contain the words “community” and “art,” give the sense that there are many possibilities for these ideas to come together. — Kimberli Meyer

LOCATION: La Cienega Blvd, north of the 10 Freeway (Cadillac Ave), on the west side of the street, facing south.
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Born in Los Angeles, Kira Lynn (b. 1963) Harris lives and works in New York. She received her MFA from California Institute of the Arts. Often creating architectural and environmental interventions, the goal of her work is to provide a disorienting encounter for the viewer, which destabilizes and reorients the subject. Besides large-scale installations, Harris also creates conceptual photography, which investigates phenomenological discourse, space, and perception. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States and internationally, including CUE Art Foundation and P.S.1 MoMA, New York, and Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts.

John Knight

Since the late 1960s, John Knight has engaged institutional critique-a strand of Conceptual Art that takes the art establishment as its subject of investigation. Through nuanced intercessions into the mechanisms of display and visual communication, his practice unpacks conventions and codes that give art its value, using art as a platform to reflect upon larger political and economic systems. Working “in situ,” each project is based on analysis and intervention specific to the venue at hand; its aesthetic logic takes its cues from the structure of that of the gallery, museum, or other exhibition venue. For the duration of How Many Billboards? Art In Stead, Knight has donated his billboard to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), a nonprofit organization founded in 1988 to benefit children of the Middle East. In return, MECA chose to display a public relations ad to bring awareness to their MAIA project, which works to install water desalinization and purification systems in Gaza schools, kindergartens, and nurseries. Knight’s gesture creates a paradoxical condition where the billboard is both the thing itself-an ad for a humanitarian organization-yet at the same time it is still a work of art. As an ad that points to the very real crisis of global water shortage, it serves to critique the exhibition itself, suggesting that the strategy employed by How Many Billboards?, which aims to reclaim media space for art, ultimately serves the same economy of meaning that leaves art aloof from politics and without any real ability to affect change on a structural level. Whether a work of art or a public relations ad, the gesture isolates the function of the billboard itself as a means of communication, and points to the ways in which its existence has become naturalized and its domination of public space unquestioned. — Nizan Shaked

LOCATION: Sunset Blvd, west of Havenhurst Dr, on the south side of the street, facing west.
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Since the late 1960s, the project of John Knight (b.1945) has managed to negate easy categorization by establishing a critical distance from the overly generalized label of Conceptual Art. Instead, Knight assumes a more singular position, by re-employing object/subjects within the vernacular, beyond the simple reinterpretation of the readymade or simulacra. Recent projects include shows at Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles (2009); Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2009); Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, Berlin (2009); Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Munich (2008); Espai d’Art Contemporani de Castelló (2008).

David Lamelas

David Lamelas has a restless and peregrinating artistic practice that addresses the parameters of time and space. He has investigated these topics in a range of post-minimalist installations, performances, photos, and films since his participation in Argentina’s nascent avant-garde during the early 1960s. Lamelas is best known for the structuralist films and media installations he produced in London and Los Angeles during the late 1960s and early 1970s, which questioned art’s capacity as both a means of communication and a medium for creating self-awareness. Key to these projects was Lamelas’s interest in relating techniques and systems used by the film and television industry to the burgeoning discourse on public space and media technology. His installation Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels: The Visual Image, Text, and Audio (1968), for example, helped establish the practice of bringing real-time information (news reports and television footage) into the space of the gallery.

Lamelas has continued to critique conventions of representation in his more recent projects, which foreground demonstrations of stardom and celebrity. For How Many Billboards, he takes aim at the archetypal rock star. Lamelas documents himself in the lead with hair slicked back and wearing a rolled-up black t-shirt revealing generic tribal tattoos. The electric pink hue of his face and exaggerated pose of his body leaning into the microphone add to the overall distortion of the image of an aging rock god. The phrase “Think of Good” hangs in the atmosphere like a mantra or refrain from a clichéd song. Lamelas’s insertion of himself into this particular role refers back to Rock Star (Character Appropriation) (1974), a suite of seven black-and-white self-portraits that depict Lamelas in the rock aesthetic of the mid 1970s-loose, long hair and skintight jeans. The terms Lamelas uses to describe both projects have little to do with acting or role-play, but rather with what he labels “character appropriation.” In this manner, Lamelas points to two seemingly contradictory tendencies within Conceptual Art’s critique of representation: the aspiration for self-criticality and emancipation from the art world’s dependency on cult or star status, and a full-scale assimilation of the technologies of both media and spectacle culture. — Gloria Sutton

LOCATION: Pico Blvd, west of Fairfax Ave, on the south side of the street, facing east.
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Born in Argentina, David Lamelas (b. 1946), lived in London before he moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Since the 1960s, David Lamelas has been among the most important proponents of a conceptual approach to art. His early structuralist films and media installations, made in the ’60s and ’70s, display a highly individual treatment of time and space. In his projects, Lamelas deals with the question of the limits of art’s temporality, and its potential for creating alternative processes of communication and cognition. Recent solo exhibitions include Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (2008); Wien Secession, Vienna (2006); and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2005). He was part of the group exhibition The Quick and the Dead at the Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis (2009).

Brandon Lattu

Brandon Lattu uses both photography and the idea of photography to explore relationships between meaning and representation. His practice consists of disassembling and reassembling information from the visual, consumer, architectural, and urban realms. For How Many Billboards, Lattu has chosen the automobile for his subject, both as a nod to the viewer who is quite likely navigating traffic while pondering the piece, and to allude to corporate products that dominate billboards, whetting and capitalizing on human desire. The Cadillac Fleetwood shown in Lattu’s piece, in production from 1927 to 1996, came to be associated with the pinnacle of luxury, repeatedly served as the U. S. President’s vehicle, and was the most common base model for both the limousine and the hearse. The visual presence of a former icon of affluence on a present day billboard highlights the passing of time, and positions current objects of advertising as transient and soon to be relegated to history. Today, the 1994 Cadillac Fleetwood is a classic car coveted by lowriders, a subset of California’s car culture with roots in Mexican-American East Los Angeles. The lowrider is a symbol of creative expression and pride of cultural identity and community, especially for Chicanos. In Lattu’s piece, this reference can be seen in the list of attributes that includes hydraulic hoses. Lattu’s piece is an active advertisement; this Fleetwood is actually for sale and the owner can be contacted through the phone number given on the billboard. By using the conventions of a free classified ad for a billboard ad–itself the luxury model of printed advertising–Lattu underscores the shifting value of objects of consumer desire and the transformation of the meaning of such objects. — Kimberli Meyer

LOCATION: Fairfax Ave, south of Pico Blvd, on the west side of the street, facing northwest.
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Brandon Lattu (b 1970) received his MFA from University of California, Los Angeles in 1998, and lives in Los Angeles. His work utilizes photography, sculpture, and video to investigate the state of representation today in order to push beyond the conventional empiricism that pictures of the world have traditionally invoked. Lattu is Assistant Professor of Art at the University of California, Riverside. Most recently, his work has been included in Walker Evans and the Barn at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam; Tractatus Logico-Catalogicus, curated by Klaus Scherubel at the Vox Centre de L’image Contemporaine, Montreal; and The Movement of Images at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Lattu was the subject of a survey exhibition held at the Bielefelder Kunstverein in 2007, which was accompanied by an artist’s book titled Office Gray Case. Upcoming solo exhibitions are scheduled at Leo Koenig Inc., New York and Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver.

Daniel Joseph Martinez

Traversing media and disciplinary boundaries for over 30 years, the artwork of Daniel Joseph Martinez has relentlessly insisted on the potential of art to agitate for political consciousness and action. Revisiting and remixing methodological conventions, his work proposes self-contradictory intellectual hybrids, resulting in the counter-dogmatic attitude characteristic of his diverse aesthetic oeuvre. In Martinez’s billboard collage, a military aircraft carrier turned sideways is in danger of pouring the fleet of Chinook helicopters on its bow into the ocean. Considered the workhorses of the U.S. Army, here the aircrafts are painted red, symbolizing that they have been repurposed for environmentalist activities. This military/environmentalist amalgam is corroborated by the rainbow design painted on the ship’s side, which recalls Greenpeace’s schooner the Rainbow Warrior. Fernando Pereira, the ship’s photographer, tragically died when Greenpeace’s original Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk at Auckland’s Marsden Wharf in 1985 by agents of the French government. Despite the fact that the agents pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter and willful damage, they were released in less than two years. With this referent in mind, the collage is inconclusive. Conflating the military with militant, it debates morality, authority, and justice. The image is offset by a text that reads: “The disappointment of a fanatical searcher of the truth, who saw through trickery of an authoritarian world filled with illusions.” The various images, in their relation to the words, provoke a matrix of possible meanings. “Truth,” this work demonstrates, may mean a different thing for Greenpeace, the French government, or for New Zealand justice, where the French agents were tried. With “disappointment” signaling that justice is nothing but blind, it also brings to mind the recent arrests and criminalization of peaceful protestors in Copenhagen during the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. — Nizan Shaked

LOCATION: Washington Blvd, west of Curson Ave, on the north side of the street, facing east.
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Over the thirty years of his art practice, Daniel Joseph Martinez (b. 1957) has investigated social, political, and cultural mores using a complex artistic vocabulary of text, sculpture, installation, painting, video, and photography. His work seeks to address historical and current geopolitical realities, exposing their complicated dynamics and destabilizing them in myriad ways. Martinez has exhibited in the United States and internationally since 1978, including the 1993 and 2008 Whitney Biennials. He had a one-person exhibition at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico (2001) and in 2006 he represented the United States at the 10th Cairo International Biennale (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Hatje Cantz recently produced the monograph Daniel Joseph Martinez: A Life of Disobedience. Martinez teaches at the University of California, Irvine, where he has been a professor of theory, practice, and mediation of contemporary art since 1990.

Kori Newkirk

Folding double-entendres into his formal investigations, Kori Newkirk’s semiotics of material play on literal and implied meaning. In his billboard image, the artist executes for the camera a bold gesture of ambiguous intent, distinguishing between what viewers see and what they can “read.” Playing on the notion of self-portraiture at large, Newkirk’s figure is captured at the center of the frame. A hint of shoulder muscle bulges with effort; his face is caught in a grimace. All the while an enormous snowball is stuck in his mouth. On the one hand, the viewer is called upon to play with the various implications of the image, with the caveat that to literalize the associations evoked by the colors, the materials, and the implications of their proper names would be to choke the artwork-pun intended. On the other hand, the denotation of the image oscillates between what may be pleasure, pain, or both-rendering unclear whether the object has been forced into the artist’s mouth, or whether it represents an act of consent. Tension is thus set up between the two ways in which this image makes meaning, between reading it through its various symbolic implication or through the actions of its main protagonist. Its refusal of one single mode of interpretation connects directly to the artist’s corporeal presence. His predicament here resists being over-determined. Still, a symbolic act of silencing exists, a sly play on the figure of speech “tongue-in-cheek,” a form self-censorship that nevertheless speaks volumes. Ball-in-cheek-the artist is subjugating his own image to the desire/violence of the viewer’s gaze. This gesture is amplified by the format of the billboard, in which the enormity of the image splays for public display the vulnerability of the moment in which the picture was taken. The gesture of extreme personal revelation, or literally exposure, is softened by the formal quality of the overall image. Originally recorded on a negative; the scanned and then enlarged photographic grain becomes as sensual as the body recorded.
—Nizan Shaked

LOCATION: Wilshire Blvd, west of Hoover St, on the south side of the street, facing west
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Kori Newkirk (b. 1970) lives and works in Los Angeles and received his MFA from the University of California, Irvine, in 1997. Newkirk makes multimedia paintings, sculptural installations, and photographs that explore the formal properties of materials, the politics of identity, and the artist’s personal history. Newkirk has had solo exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2008); Pasadena Museum of California Art (2008); LA><Art, Los Angeles (2008); Project, New York (2006); MC, Los Angeles (2006); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2005); and Locust Projects, Miami (2005).

Yvonne Rainer

Yvonne Rainer’s prodigious output over the past forty years crosses several spheres of art making. Her important work as both a choreographer and filmmaker radically infuse political and conceptual consciousness into the fields of dance and independent filmmaking. While these two trajectories of Rainer’s art practice follow their own distinct paths, both her dance compositions and films employ distancing strategies and disjunctive acts (such as fragmentation), and set up complex juxtapositions that interrupt the linear flow of narrative and time. Most notably, her dances and films eschew the grand gestures and excessive drama of modern dance and Abstract Expressionism, which dominated New York’s art establishment when Rainer began her intermedia performances with Judson Church during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Instead, Rainer’s work reflects the ordinary movements of everyday life, and her dance compositions dispel the distance between performer and audience by removing the proscenium stage. Rainer’s We Shall Run (1963), for example, has non-professional dancers dressed in casual street clothes jogging for seven minutes. Her use of voice-over and intertitles in many of her films, along with appropriating whole texts (literary, cinematic, and philosophical) by other authors into her screenplays further distances her work from the illusionistic imperatives of traditional narrative filmmaking. In The Man Who Envied Women (1985) one of her most popular films, Rainer uses this technique of textual appropriation and delivers a comical and incisive account of artistic and intellectual pretension. Addressing themes of aging, menopause, and women’s identity, Privilege (1990) is one of Rainer’s more explicitly feminist films representing the process by which women’s bodies are coveted in youth but marginalized in older age.

For How Many Billboards, Rainer plainly presents an enigmatic quote from a grand dame of Hollywood filmmaking, Marlene Dietrich. In an industry constantly churning out new talent, Dietrich’s professional longevity was exceptional and is often attributed to her ability to constantly reinvent herself for both the camera and her public. Even in her self-imposed seclusion during the last decade of her life, Dietrich continued to captivate the public imagination. Despite her death in 1992, Dietrich’s image remains ever present as a standard for glamour, which seems to corroborate the refrain “I look good” in Rainer’s billboard text. By alluding to and defamiliarizing mass-media imagery, especially Hollywood movies, Rainer casts a critical light on various scenarios that contribute to women’s oppression-social, political and physical.
— Gloria Sutton

LOCATION: Pico Blvd, west of Fairfax Ave, on the south side of the street, facing west
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Yvonne Rainer (b. 1934) made a transition to filmmaking following a 15-year career as a choreographer/dancer (1960–1975). After making seven experimental feature films – Lives of Performers (1972), Privilege (1990), MURDER and murder (1996), among others – she returned to dance in 2000 via a commission from the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation for the White Oak Dance Project. Her most recent dances are “AG Indexical, with a little help from H.M.,” a re-vision of Balanchine’s “Agon”; “RoS Indexical,” a re-vision of Nijinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and a Performa07 commission; and “Spiraling Down,” a meditation on soccer, aging, and war. Her dances have been performed in New York, Vienna, Helsinki, Kassel, Berlin, Sao Paolo, and, in June 2009, at REDCAT, Los Angeles. A memoir, Feelings Are Facts: A Life, was published by MIT Press in 2006. Rainer is currently a Distinguished Professor of Studio Art at the University of California, Irvine.

Martha Rosler with Josh Neufeld

While conceptual artist and writer Martha Rosler works in a variety of media, her practice has been particularly important to the development of conceptual photography. Rosler’s approach to photography focuses equally on issues of gender, class, and American foreign policy, as well as the production, display, and dissemination of photographic images. Some of her most influential works in the medium consciously strive to reveal the power dynamics between subject and photographer. Her seminal photo series The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (1974-1975) is a potent example of her persistent questioning of the unacknowledged complexities of photographing “the other” in American society under the guise of socially concerned or documentary photography.

For How Many Billboards?, Rosler uses the billboard as a site for social critique in addition to art making. In collaboration with graphic novelist Josh Neufeld, the artist emphasizes the desperate need for Americans to come together to address today’s social inequities in order to secure our own future. Their references to California’s “seismic shift” in the allocation of resources to prisons-as opposed to schools-and the unacknowledged power of corporations within the University of California system localize a national concern for Angelenos walking or driving by the billboard. — Lisa Henry

LOCATION: Sunset Blvd, west of Cahuenga Blvd, on the north side of the street, facing east
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Martha Rosler (b. 1943) works in multiple media, including photography, sculpture, video, and installation. Her work on the public sphere centers on war but also on everyday life and the media, often with an eye to women’s experience. Investigating landscapes of the everyday, she has produced works on the uses of space, including architecture and housing, as well as systems of airplane, automobile, and subway travel. Her project The Martha Rosler Library toured the U.S. and Europe from 2005 through December 2009. She currently is a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. For How Many Billboards, she has collaborated with graphic novelist Josh Neufeld.

Josh Neufeld (b. 1967) is a Brooklyn-based writer and artist. His works include A.D: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon Books, 2009), a nonfiction graphic novel about Hurricane Katrina, and the graphic travelogue A Few Perfect Hours (and Other Stories from Southeast Asia & Central Europe) (Alternative Comics, 2004). His work has been featured in The VagabondsKeyhole, and Titans of Finance, as well as in numerous comics anthologies, newspapers, magazines, and literary journals. He is a longtime artist for Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, and his art has been exhibited in gallery and museum shows in the United States and Europe.

Allen Ruppersberg

Allen Ruppersberg brought together his longstanding interests in books and posters in the billboard he created for this exhibition. Ruppersberg approached the billboard at face value, asking what does a billboard do? As an answer to this question, he created an unsolicited advertisement for an upcoming exhibition project, Pacific Standard Time. This large undertaking, with leadership and funding from the Getty Foundation, will take place at a number of Southern California arts venues and focus on the history of postwar art of Los Angeles from 1945 to 1980. As an artist participating in Pacific Standard Time, and as a key figure in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s, Ruppersberg has both a professional and personal relationship to the exhibition project and the era it highlights.

The image of the book on the billboard is an alteration of the catalog The Art and Technology Program, 1967-71, which documents the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s well-known project that paired artists with high technology corporations. The cover of that publication features a grid of portraits of some of the artists, scientists, and corporate officials that participated in the program. For his unofficial, highly humorous advertisement for Pacific Standard Time, Ruppersberg drew from his own personal archive and library for portraits of artists active in Los Angeles from the 1960s and ’70s. In this way, he references the sweeping scale of both LACMA’s Art and Technology Program and the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time project, while inserting his own history as a part of the larger cultural narrative. — Kimberli Meyer

LOCATION: Venice Blvd, west of Midvale Ave, on the north side of the street, facing east.
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Allen Ruppersberg (b. 1944) is from Cleveland, Ohio, and has been working in Los Angeles and New York since the late 1960s. Focusing on a mixture of text and image in his drawings, prints, photographs, installations, and artist books, Ruppersberg has fashioned an artistic practice that continually calls for viewer participation, from ordering one of many unique dishes at Al’s Café (1969) or renting a room in Al’s Grand Hotel (1971) to being given free pages in Art, and therefore, Ourselves at the Santa Monica Museum (2009) and The Never-ending Book Part 1 (2007). He is represented in major collections, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; and Whitney Museum of America Art, New York.

Allan Sekula

Allan Sekula’s impact as a conceptual artist, theoretician, and instructor shaped much of the postmodern photographic practice that developed in Southern California during the 1980s and 1990s. His work has long been focused on socio-political critique, manifested by a persistent interrogation of photography’s long-standing claim to truth and evidence, and the photographic image’s supposed ability to record essential cultural identities. His project for How Many Billboards? is in keeping with an ongoing series of image/text pieces that deal with the ramifications of unchecked capitalism and workers’ rights.

For this exhibition, Sekula deploys an image previously exhibited at Documenta 12. A welder at a construction site holding a lit acetylene torch and crouching over his work takes a moment to look directly at the viewer. The words “The rich destroy the planet” are superimposed in Spanish over the photograph. The lettering, which looks as if it were cut letter by letter from old magazines, is slightly disjunctive in scale but chromatically balanced and ultimately aesthetically appealing. The message, however, is blunt and accusatory, and it functions succinctly for both English and Spanish speakers, since these words appear similar in both languages. — Lisa Henry

LOCATION: Olympic Blvd, east of Robertson Blvd, on the south side of the street, facing west.
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Allan Sekula (b. 1951-d. 2013) is a photographer, writer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, where he taught in the Program in Photography and Media at the California Institute of the Arts. He explored an experimental social documentary practice since the early 1970s. His books include Photography Against the Grain, Fish Story, Geography Lesson: Canadian Notes, Performance under Working Conditions, and TITANIC’s wake. His work was presented in Documenta 11 in 2002, and in Documenta 12 in 2007. For Documenta 12, Sekula presented a large-scale, outdoor billboard piece, Shipwreck and Workers, consisting of multiple photographic images and graphic panels installed on a floating raft and on a steep hillside in the baroque Bergpark in Kassel, Germany.

Susan Silton

Susan Silton’s varied projects using photography, video, installation, and offset printing investigate both visual perception and the power of persuasion. Her images draw attention to both the disorienting quality of motion and the desire for stasis in such a way that she is able to challenge viewers’ assumptions about what they perceive and how they might categorize what they see. To do this, the artist uses blurring, distortion, repetition, and finely calibrated color combinations. Recently her investigations of the history and politics of stripes, with their varied associations ranging from military uniforms to minimalist paintings, have yielded a large series of printed works.

For How Many Billboards?, she has composed a dazzling array of colors within the regimented format of perfectly measured vertical stripes. This minimalist composition of thin bands of color, punctuated by repeated uses of bright yellow and blue, provides such an appealing chromatic display that the viewer may not at first see the large text that appears to float both behind and within the striped space. The phrase embedded within the candy-colored bars is “IF I SAY SO.” Printed in all capital letters in a sans serif font, both the format and content of the text communicate the forceful presumption of an unseen speaker. “IF I SAY SO” is an excerpt from a 1961 telegram sent by artist Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg had been invited to participate in an exhibition of portraits of gallerist Iris Clert. His contribution was a telegram that read: “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.” Regardless of its specific source, Silton’s text points to the persuasive power of the authoritative voice, especially when it utilizes the spectacular scale of the billboard. — Lisa Henry

LOCATION: La Cienega Blvd, north of Rodeo Rd, on the west side of the street, facing south.
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Susan Silton (b. 1956) is a Los Angeles-based, multidisciplinary artist whose work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions internationally, including at SolwayJones, Los Angeles; SITE Santa Fe; Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; and Allanz Zeignierderiassung, Berlin. Her work investigates how perception is shaped and distorted by spin, consumerism, and the weight of history, identity, and information overload. She incorporates photographic-based processes, video, installation, performative works, and offset lithography, collectively and variously, to reconsider, complicate, and subvert interpretation, especially as it relates to subjectivity.

Kerry Tribe

Over the past decade, Kerry Tribe has mined themes of memory, identity, and coincidence, while calling attention to the theoretical and formal qualities that undergird film and video as artistic mediums. Most recently, Tribe’s 16mm film installation H.M. (2009) produces a type of mnemonic dissonance not unlike that experienced by the film’s subject, an amnesiac who was only able to hold thoughts in his head for about 20 seconds.

Tribe’s interests in questioning the formal tropes of media are represented by more quotidian forms as well. In This too shall pass (2002), she rendered the historical Hebrew inscription into a glaring neon sign. The innocuous space of a city-bus-bench ad in Hollywood was given the guise of a national historical marker in Untitled (Historical Amnesia), 2002-03. As a MFA student at UCLA, Tribe arranged and produced an audio CD of birdcalls whistled uncannily by her fellow artists (A Birdsong Sampler, 2001).

Tribe’s billboard reflects the artist’s interest in the problems associated with perception. Her abstraction of a darkening sky takes advantage of the proclivity to look up at billboards. Blending the site of the message with its airy backdrop, Tribe’s image engages in a formal push and pull with perspective. Tribe’s billboard transforms a space that typically directs one’s attention outward (aiming the thoughts and desires of viewers toward a specific product) into a space of mental suspension, a hazy zone to lose one’s thoughts within. Akin to her contemplative works, such as the abstract film Northern Lights (Cambridge) (2005), which uses lo-tech optical effects to simulate Aurorae (the luminous atmospheric phenomena that appear as curtains of colored light), Tribe’s billboard gives the viewer a mental break from the onslaught of visual imagery to simply ponder what the image might be, and what purpose it may serve. — Gloria Sutton

LOCATION: La Brea Ave, north of Venice Blvd, on the east side of the street, facing north.
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Kerry Tribe’s (b. 1973) rigorously crafted, large-scale projects form an ongoing investigation into memory, subjectivity, and doubt. She regularly invites actors, crew members, and technical specialists to participate in her work, producing ludic philosophical inquiries through structurally rigorous forms. Tribe’s work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Generali Foundation, Vienna; Kunst-Werke, Berlin; and Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent. Tribe currently splits her time between Los Angeles and Berlin.

James Welling

Photographer James Welling’s varied body of work is driven by curiosity and experimentation with the photographic image. He has explored straight photography, landscape photography, and postmodern image making, including such unlikely subjects as crumpled tin foil. Welling sometimes combines Conceptualism, Minimalism, abstraction, and traditional photography. He has used unconventional cropping, super close-ups, repetition of forms, and color alteration in order to push both the conceptual and perceptual possibilities of the photograph. Welling has a deep, encyclopedic knowledge of the history of photography and is fascinated by the medium’s most basic concepts, including the camera as a technical mechanism for capturing light, the importance of the photographic print, and how things are revealed photographically as opposed to how they appear to the human eye.

From the late 1990s to the present, Welling has alternated between abstracted representational photography, such as the Glass House Series (2006-2009), and the photogram, a darkroom technique that has gained renewed popularity through Welling’s influence. For How Many Billboards?, Welling experiments further with photogram abstractions. His billboard image reveals rectangular shapes of deep blue with touches of brown slashing through a black background. Viewers are not meant to identify “what” the image is but rather to mentally slow down and think, prompting a self-conscious process of looking. — Lisa Henry

LOCATION: La Brea Ave, south of the 10 Freeway, on the east side of the street, facing north.
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James Welling (b.1951) received his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, where he worked primarily in video, studying with Wolfgang Storechle and John Baldessari. In the late 1970s, Welling emerged as an artist for whom photographic norms are not a given but rather a field of contest between different formal languages. His recent museum shows include The Pictures Generation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009), the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and a 25-year survey of his work at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Welling exhibits at Regen Projects, Los Angeles; David Zwirner, New York; Donald Young, Chicago; Galerie Nelson-Freeman, Paris; Maureen Paley, London; Galerie Nächt St. Stephan Rosmarie Schwarzwälder, Vienna; and Wako Works of Art, Tokyo. He is on the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Art.

lauren woods

Cultural and collective memory, historical narratives, social psychology, and the politics of gender, class, race, and nationhood are some of the themes lauren woods commonly taps in her work. The text on her billboard is in Urdu; it is translated as follows:

As long as the earth and the sky last,
Smile like a flower in the garden of the world.

It is from a love poem by a prolific Urdu poet of the medieval period, Vali Dakhni, who is credited with inventing the poetic form ghazal, consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain. Dakhni also inspired poets of Delhi to switch from writing in Persian, the language of the upper class, to writing in Urdu, which was the common language of the people. For many in Los Angeles, the image of the poem on the billboard does not transmit its meaning, because most of us read neither Arabic script nor the Urdu language. Language without legibility provides a kind of canvas upon which the viewer may project assumptions, passions, and fears. In post-9/11 America, this particular foreign language can appear both beautiful and vaguely threatening. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, one of the most active hotspots for global tension. Woods presents this opportunity for mass projection as a chance for self-reflection. The work sets up a moment in which the viewer is prompted to observe her assumptions and possibly evaluate her prejudices. Woods’ piece insists on seeing the beauty in distant cultures, especially when these cultures have been associated with enemies of our nation. It also plays with the idea of messaging, delivering a directive from a distant century, language, alphabet, and culture, yet one with an arguably universal meaning and contemporary relevance. — Kimberli Meyer

LOCATION: Fairfax Ave, south of Melrose Ave, west side of the street, facing north.
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lauren woods (b. 1979)is a multimedia artist based in the Bay Area of California. Her hybrid media projects – film, video and sound installations, interventions, and site-specific work – engage history while contemplating the socio-politics of the present. Challenging the tradition of documentary/ethnography as objective, she creates ethno-fictive documents that investigate invisible dynamics in society, remix memory, and imagine other possibilities. In 2006, she received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, including Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, and Miami, as well as Puerto Rico, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Mali, and France.

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