"Alienation produces eccentrics or revolutionaries," announced Jenny Holzer on an old marquis in Hollywood. "Please stop texting," begged Barbara Kruger from an LED screen on the side of an art museum. In the LA Weekly, Holzer continued, "You are trapped on earth so you will explode," while Kruger's video commands continued looping on Wilshire Blvd., "You are a very important person. Hang up and drive." Both artists are known to work with text and in public -- in front of an estimated one hundred million people -- they were at no loss for words. Their work was part of a public art exhibition in Los Angeles this spring called Women in the City.
The exhibition featured four successful American female artists who contributed new or rejuvenated works. Some pieces were created in the late seventies/early eighties and are associated with the feminist movement, such as Cindy Sherman's beloved Untitled Film Stills, four of which were displayed in large format on billboards. I shrieked when I unexpectedly drove past one of them -- a mirrored image of Sherman as a girl with short, dark hair who looks reflective and French. It was not the first time I shrieked while looking at art in L.A., but I wondered if other passersby knew what they were looking at. To some, an image of Sherman on a billboard might look like yet another beauty advertisement, minus the persuasive text. Immediately recognizing the image as an artwork felt like being a member of a secret society.
Curator Emi Fontana created the exhibit through the new non-profit arm of her arts organization, West of Rome. As she said in a New York Times Magazine article, Fontana wasn't very good at selling small works as an art dealer -- enter the idea of art on billboards, marquees, and walls in over fifty locations for the Women in the City exhibit.
Kruger's aforementioned film, Plenty, is still rolling on a couple of outdoor screens in LA. Holzer's newspaper propagations -- sheets of silver stickers printed with phrases from her Survival Series are long gone, but wheat-pasted sheets of brightly colored paper with more collections of her borrowed words can still be found around the city -- some were pasted with permission, some without. Many of the other works by Holzer, Kruger, Sherman and Louise Lawler are no longer on view, but thanks to Interweb magic (check out my Flickr set), you can see images of everything without having to go back in time or sit in traffic on Wilshire.
I didn't see the entire exhibition, but I enjoyed having the artists' intentions subtly shouted at me. I'm still thinking about it a month later, especially Jenny Holzer's sticker that reminds you to "Turn soft and lovely any time you have a chance." It made me wish all of our billboards and Jumbo-trons and newspaper advertisements were upended in favor of art. The world might be a much better place.