LinkNYC, the “communications network” of digital advertising displays disguised as WiFi hotspots on New York City streets, has gotten into the artwashing game. Artists are being asked to pay to play in what is marketed as an open call for art in public space.
MvVO ART’s AD ART SHOW 2019, a collaboration with LinkNYC, is described as an exhibition that “celebrates the talented artists continuing the legacy of Warhol, Haring, Magritte, and the many other world famous artists with roots in advertising.” Artists who work in advertising are eligible to submit to an open call (for a $75 entry fee, of course), and selected works will be exhibited on LinkNYC displays throughout the city during Frieze Week.
While MvVO ART describes the show as a collaboration with LinkNYC, MvVO ART’s founder, Maria van Vlodrop, told me, “Link is its own separate entity so from that perspective it is a media buy.” Cool opportunity I guess. MvVO ART buys some ad space and hands it over to artists to exhibit their work in public? I’m all for more art and fewer ads on those displays. But no, there’s a catch. Selected artists will have to pay an additional $875 to cover the cost of exhibiting. I’m pretty sure that’s not how Haring got his art into subway stations, but nice try MvVO.
I don’t understand why anyone would participate in the AD ART SHOW. For $950, you could probably just buy ad space from LinkNYC directly. Or better yet, just break into a payphone or a bus shelter and install your work like a normal person. It’s free, it’s more fun, and it’s your right!
In the two years that my collaborators and I have been producing Art in Ad Places, we’ve installed nearly 100 artworks in payphones across all five boroughs. Yes, we’ve had to pay some printing costs, but those have been notably lower than $950 per poster. And crucially, we and our fellow public space advocates like Jordan Seiler and Special Patrol Group don’t believe that artists should be paying for access to public space. As we see it, any “out-of-home advertising” space, from a LinkNYC tower to a billboard, is really just a ready-to-use venue for something more interesting. Replacing ads with art, or whatever you feel like putting there, is an act of public service. As Banksy has said of the advertising industry, “They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”
While the transition towards digital advertising displays makes things a bit more difficult for anyone who may want to claim those spaces as their own, it’s not impossible. There’s Mark Thomas, the outsider sound artist making LinkNYC towers play a creepy version of the Mister Softee theme. And I’m all for Jason Eppink bringing back the Pixelator on a massive scale.
Even if you aren’t sold on the idea of liberating advertising space for public use: LinkNYC also has a more traditional art program, #ArtOnLink, where New York City artists are given free space to exhibit their work on LinkNYC towers. So, again, WHY? Why would any artist spend $950 to buy ad space from MvVO when the billboard’s owners want to give them the same space for free? Is it just lack of knowledge? Admittedly, LinkNYC has never publicized how artists are selected for #ArtOnLink. So there’s that mystery.
Next questions: if invited, should an artist participate in #ArtOnLink? I’m not convinced. Seems like the program is mostly an attempt at artwashing to legitimize the presence of these controversial spy machines, or maybe a way to use up unsold advertising capacity. Want to see your art up in lights? Want to reach New Yorkers outside of a gallery or museum? Don’t waste your money. Don’t legitimize surveillance under the guise of market research. As the old saying goes, just do it.