Times Square sans advertising (image from ts2as.com)

Over the years, various artists including Maya Lin, Marina Abramovic and Keith Haring have presented artwork in Times Square, often on one of the large video screens that dot the space. But why not turn every advertisement in Times Square into art? Justus Bruns, an enterprising Dutch guy, started a project that has gradually snowballed into something like a viral movement. His goal? To turn Times Square into Art Square (so goes the name of the project, TS2AS), and cover up all the visual noise in New York City’s most famous public space with works of contemporary art. It’s certainly a tall order, but with the momentum Justus and his team have already pulled together on an international level, there’s a better chance than ever before.

Justus Bruns presenting TS2AS (photo by author)

Justus and team partner Martin Hoorweg held a party to keep the buzz going for their project last night at Apotheke, an alchemical bar in the alleys of Chinatown that presented a perfect context for the mad-scientist vibe that TS2AS creates. Between cocktails named for artists like Louise’s Luxury (Bourgeois, of course) Justus and Martin gave a presentation on TS2AS that gave a little more background into the history of the idea, what they want to do, and how they want to carry it out. I think everyone was wondering exactly what the team hoped to accomplish, and the presentation didn’t disappoint.

Kicked off in December 2009 following participation in a disappointing new media conference, the idea to plaster Times Square in art was originally a joke, an impossible idea that could only possibly be carried out through new media collaboration. Yet the media took the idea and ran: Justus received international coverage of the project, begun as a whim. He describes the project “snowballing” into something that people really wanted to see completed. So he took the next step, and took TS2AS seriously. With a website, a Kickstarter fund, an international team and a series of parties in Amsterdam and abroad to spread the word, the guys are on to to the next level. I sent Justus and Martin a few questions to get a better sense of where they wanted TS2AS to go:

Kyle Chayka: Since TS2AS all started off on a whim or as a joke, what made you start to take it seriously and believe that you really could get it done?

Justus Bruns and Martin Hoorweg: Right after launching the (first) website, we saw how many people were interested in the idea, by the many visitors and reactions this website created. It emphasized the need for this project in general. So many people were attracted by idea to show the importance of art, by replacing billboards on this immense square.

KC: What made you choose Times Square as opposed to somewhere closer to home, in Europe?

JB+MH: If there’s one famous advertising/commercially engulfed spot it is Times Square. The best place to make a positive statement: dreaming is good and art is as important as, or even more than, advertising. Like Albert Einstein said: imagination is more important than knowledge.

KC: Does being in America make this project feel easier to accomplish?

JB+MH: I read somewhere NYC is being described in one word as ‘Achieve’. There’s a good vibe in this city. People here have a bigger entrepreneurial spirit then in the Netherlands. There’s this Dutch saying: “Doe maar normaal dan doe je al gek genoeg”, or in English “Acting normal is weird enough”, the mentality here is the opposite: “from zero to hero, believing in impossible things”.

KC: What are the next steps you’ll take for TS2AS? Will you keep barnstorming and holding parties around the world to garner support, or are you going to go directly to NYC officials to begin the process?

JB+MH: Our main focus points are gaining more support and further researching the specs of each piece of Times Square. So actually we’ll be doing both, as we need to get the support of the masses, and get every bit of information sorted. We found that organizing the PRPRTY’s works very well in reaching people and getting people interested in the idea and actually wanting to help out. That’s what we need before sitting with the NYC officials, which of course doesn’t mean we won’t be working on reaching them in the meantime.

KC: What kind of art do you want to cover Times Square with?

JB+MH: Our main focus for the art-side of the project is the development of this global network of artists, that’s actually the other reason behind organizing the PRPRTY’s (Amsterdam first, NYC second) all over the world, a combination between fine arts, perfomance arts, good music and art-minded people. Of course it would be amazing if some of the more well-established artist contributed, names like a Pipilotti Rist or Bill Viola, but for now we’re not at a point yet to in- or exclude anyone’s work. And we’re actually quite curious to find out what artists actually come up with in their ideas of using the whole of Times Square as one great blank canvas.

Find out more about TS2AS at their website, through their Twitter, or check out this sweet introductory video that the team put together.

A sketch for TS2AS (image from ts2as.com)

If we had some advice for the TS2AS team, it would be to hook into the huge resources for public art in the city. Creative Time and the Public Art Fund, plus the Times Square Alliance have all found success with massive art projects on the scale of TS2AS. The guys are already doing their job with crowdsourcing, paying for their own plane tickets and creating a groundswell of enthusiasm. I would recommend some better Kickstarter rewards to entice donors, though. Next up, we want to see renderings! What will Times Square turned Art Square look like? Maybe one famous anchor artist like Doug Aitken can get involved to propel further art world cred. TS2AS is by no means an impossible project, but it is difficult. Yet the project is a way of reclaiming public space for visual art, and who wouldn’t love to see that?

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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