Chicago's Billboards Will Be Overtaken By Modern Art Later This Month

By Kirsten Onsgard in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 19, 2016 8:45PM

Image by Sanford Biggers, Cheshire, moniquemeloche | Chicago
If you’re sick of seeing the same-old superhero film or snack advertisement circling through the city billboards on your morning commute, you’re in for some relief: starting later this month, modern art will be displayed on all of Chicago’s digital billboards.

“Override: A Billboard Project” is a citywide installation featuring works by artists presenting at The International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art (EXPO Chicago) on 28 digital billboards from Aug. 29 to Sept. 25, which runs in conjunction with the fifth annual exposition at Navy Pier, Sept. 22 to 25.

The inaugural billboard program will include work by 15 artists, seven of whom are from Chicago: Sanford Biggers, Stephanie Brooks, Sterling Lawrence, Joyce Pensato, Cheryl Pope, Rashid Johnson and Wendy White.

By bringing artwork into the public and using advertising signage, the goal of the program is to “push the boundaries of how visual culture is disseminated,” according to the programming. The word “override” itself is drawn from an advertising term for an outdoor program that is continued beyond its original term.

Indeed many of the pieces look like they could be ads—from a grinning actor in a Ronald McDonald suit to bright neon symbols—while others carry overtly cultural and racial weight. Chicago artist Cheryl Pope’s “Some You Miss Some You Don’t” stems from a series in which she asked students to submit one truth and one lie about themselves, and hung them like athletic banners in the school’s gymnasium.

“The wonderful part of engaging artwork is that it’s meant to be provocative —and I don’t mean that in a negative way and I don’t mean that in a positive way,” EXPO Chicago Director Tony Karman told Chicagoist. “It’s meant to be provocative visually, so one can both take pause and take enjoyment in seeing something in a place you wouldn’t expect to see it.”

The work will be displayed in rotation with regular advertising on the city’s digital billboard network, which stretches along major highways, with most clustered near downtown and the West Loop. They will be replacing some city of Chicago messaging, not paid advertising, Karman said.

Karman also said he hopes this will become an annual event.

"I hope the citizens of Chicago can enjoy that interstitial moment - that catch they are going to have if they’re in the car or walking down the street.” he told Chicagoist. “I think that’s part of the fun. It’s a little bit of a visual treasure hunt.”