On Tuesday, February 7, 2022, The Billboard Collective (TBC) collaborated with Obscura to launch its latest exhibition of 30 NFT photographs on billboards throughout the streets of Los Angeles. The images on display were submitted from artists across the globe to an open call on Discord and then selected by artist Mona Kuhn and Obscura’s co-founder Alejandro Cartagena. By combining billboards and NFTs, the exhibition blurs the line between the tangible and the digital. The exhibition will run for one month, with a map containing the names of all artists and the location of their works which can be found here.
It is so important to get out there and see the location of the billboards in person because you immediately start making connections between the urban setting and the artworks, and that is when it starts coming alive. — Mona Kuhn
The clusters of billboards allow the images to communicate with one another and create a conversation with the environment around them. This can be seen in Rony Hernandez’ “Persona” where the shape of the intersection mirrors the triangle shape in Hernandez’ image. Behind J. Jason Chambers photograph of a rusted spray painted car, we can see buildings and trucks covered with colourful graffiti. These formal relationships between the billboards and the urban environment of Los Angeles speak to the interplay between the physical and the digital, the internet and the real world.
It is nearly impossible to go one day without seeing an image. Their presence is unavoidable and we see them everywhere as they fill our screens and print media. The billboard is the largest and most monumental example of this. Catherine Gudies has described how billboards have led to “the incursion of pictures and texts to the public sphere.” Los Angeles’ movie studios have romanticized the open road in our minds and in this city dominated by the automobile, the billboard is the perfect medium of display for images to reach as wide an audience as possible. Co-curator Mona Kuhn says that it's "a thrill to see the artworks, which might otherwise have limited exposure, spring up into a large-scale billboard exhibition." Kuhn was once “a young voice that needed a little assurance” and hopes to provide that for the participating artists. ¹
Public art projects often come from institutional commissions that require formal proposals and a curriculum vitae of past experiences in order to be considered. TBC and Obscura sourced works directly from the NFT community which included artists ranging from a variety of backgrounds and experience. Using this community-based model allowed for a broader range of artists to participate that may have otherwise had barriers to entry in the traditional art world.
Many artists have turned to the billboard as a democratic medium able to reach a larger audience than a traditional gallery or museum setting. Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel's Billboards project is an example of this which brought artworks into public space, reaching new viewers and challenging the divide between advertising and art images:
With the billboard, we wanted to reach a larger and more varied public than would ever find its way into an art institution. - Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel
NFTs are an emerging technology that has been adopted by artists around the world, enabling digital ownership and a more direct relationship between artists and collectors. This has led to a new wave of community, conversation, and artist opportunities in photography centered around NFTs. Through discussion with Alejandro, Mona quickly discovered the possibilities of this emerging medium and the energy surrounding it, noting that "this space is very exciting, very dynamic, everything that I was missing was in the NFT world."
Although the billboard exhibition lasted one month, the NFTs will be permanently accessible on-chain long after their display. Going forward, all participating artists will create a new collection of 30 NFTs as a fundraiser with all proceeds going to the next generation of billboard artists. This will create a cycle of creating new visibility for artists in ways that go beyond traditional art models. The exhibition comes full circle with the help of the initial artists funding opportunities for the next group of artists, strengthening community and generating conversation about NFTs and photography.
"This is what an NFT is: it’s not just making money, it’s a community of people talking about what photography is, what value in art is, and having a conversation about it." - Alejandro Cartagena
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