Are Highway Billboards Becoming the New Home of High Art?

Advocacy groups turn interstates into galleries

Advertisers may dominate the lion's share of America's billboards, but roadside signs seem to be an increasingly popular medium for artists as well.

A number of billboard installations have been popping up around the country, reports The New York Times. In Missouri, there's the "I-70 Sign Show," which seeks to spark political debate with images like a Mickalene Thomas piece on female sexuality.

In Cincinnati, the "Big Pictures" show aims to break up the daily routines of passersby with images like a toucan surrounded by Post-it notes, created by artist Sarah Cwynar. And along cross-country Interstate 10, "The Manifest Destiny Billboard Trip" has since last fall sought to call attention to issues concerning the history of westward expansion, with some 100 signs featuring the work of 10 artists.

Each example offers a bit more art theory and cultural critique than your average billboard. They're also more modest in scope than the massive "Art Everywhere" initiative launched this summer, which has seen an advertising trade organization team up with a group of major museums to bring more than 50 crowd-curated paintings, including classics like Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, to more than 50,000 outdoor ad spaces.

While the smaller works might not be as inventive as turning billboards into houses for the homeless, they are a nice change of pace from, say, Ashley Madison.

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