Art Replaces Ads at 22,000 Out-of-Home Sites in the U.K.

'A very very big art show'

There's art everywhere! It's loose in the streets! The onslaught of art will kill us all! possibly enhance our dreary, workaday lives!

The Art Everywhere project in England fuses art and commerce on a grand scale, with reproductions of 57 popular works—ranging from the 16th century to modern times—replacing ads on 22,000 out-of-home ad sites, including billboards, bus shelters, tube-station walls and other locations like shopping malls and office buildings. Innocent Drinks cofounder Richard Reed spearheaded the initiative (it was his wife's idea), and he described Art Everywhere to the Guardian as "a joyful project with no agenda other than to flood our streets with art and celebrate the creative talents and legacy of the U.K."

Some $4.7 million worth of ad space is being used for the project's two-week run—the tagline is, "A very very big art show"—with online donations helping to cover costs. The art was chosen by the public, with pieces selected from a list provided by the Tate gallery and the Art Fund. "The Lady of Shalott," an ethereal, evocative 1888 oil-on-canvas by John William Waterhouse, inspired by a Tennyson poem, topped the vote count. But, d'uh, who couldn't guess that.

It's only appropriate that ad space is being employed, since billboards, commercial posters and advertisements of all kinds are the popular art of modern times, reflecting the contemporary culture as surely as pre-Raphaelite paintings captured the nuances and obsessions of an earlier age.

Not that I'd advocate such a thing, but I'm sure that at some point a few taggers (perhaps even Banksy, England's maverick anti-advertising artist) will see fit to deface the public displays. It's clearly vandalism, but I think they'd be creating valid hybrid works that could say quite a lot about art, human nature and the media-saturated times in which we live. Or else they'd just be acting like jerks.

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.