Get ready for the biggest outdoor art show ever. This summer, from coast to coast, some of the best-known works of American art will be on public view. The project is called “Art Everywhere US” and it’s based on a similar program that ran in Great Britain last year.
A consortium of five American art museums have selected 100 masterworks (20 each) from their permanent collections. They hope that by displaying them in places where people are unaccustomed to seeing great art, Americans can be brought to appreciate the country’s artistic heritage and become more interested in art in general.
The museums involved are the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. They’ll be working with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America to bring the images to public view.
An online voting process was held to winnow the 100 down by half, and those will be reproduced nationwide in public spaces such as billboards, street furniture and transit hubs. They’ll announce in June which 50 have been selected.
In a video on the organization’s website, DMA Director Maxwell L. Anderson says that “this is the art that tells the story of America, expresses our creativity and reflects who we are.” He’s hopeful the effort will inspire Americans to learn more about their country’s art, and discover the great works in our nation’s museums.
I spent some time last week looking over the 100 pieces chosen to represent these museums (and, by extension, American art) and it’s a good list.
The whole group is viewable at http://www.arteverywhereus.org, and I heartily recommend taking a look. They’re arranged chronologically and a better brief overview of American art history — and America itself — would be tough to find.
There’s portraiture from the time of the American Revolution, like Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington from the National Gallery of Art. (Notably, both the oldest painting, 1767, and the newest, 2008, are portraits, which speaks to their power throughout the centuries.)
There are 19th century works that show America in its Western, rural and emerging urban manifestations. There are examples of early 20th century American Modernism, 1960s Pop art and much that’s come along since.
Even if you don’t know the names off the top of your head, you’ll immediately recognize a lot of them, like Edward Hopper’s iconic “Nighthawks,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Jasper Johns’ “Three Flags” and Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Can.” Among all the others that might not be so familiar, I guarantee you’ll find some new ones to like.
Whether this will achieve its goals remains to be seen. I’m hopeful but skeptical. Our culture is all but inured to images because we’re literally flooded by them constantly, from billboards to our computer screens. On the other hand, great works of art have the power to cut through the clutter and speak directly to us in unique ways.
It will be worth paying attention to this creative experiment in the way we interact with them.