The NY Times Has Something To Say
By COLIN MOYNIHAN
It was a bizarre cat-and-mouse game, played on Sunday across scores of makeshift billboards in New York.
One group of artists and activists spread across Lower Manhattan, transforming innumerous wheat-pasted posters — the ones that readily sprout over scaffolding — into their own canvas.
They would whitewash the posters and then create their own work, or allow anti-advertising advocates to spread their own messages.
But just as quickly as they whitewashed and put up art, workers arrived to put up new posters where the artists had obscured the old ones.
And so it went, back and forth, with drama, confrontation and even a few arrests by day’s end.
The takeover efforts were organized by an artist, Jordan Seiler, who founded a group called the Public Ad Campaign to question and challenge the use of outdoor ads in public areas.
Shortly after 9 a.m. on Sunday, Mr. Seiler and about a dozen other participants met in his Chelsea studio, where they went over lists of targets: 114 street-level billboards that Mr. Seiler said were operated by companies that he believed were putting up ads without proper permission from the city.
A spokeswoman for the City Department of Buildings, Ryan Fitzgibbon, said on Sunday that it was difficult to immediately address Mr. Seiler’s claims.
“If outdoor advertisement is allowed, a permit from D.O.B. must be obtained in order to post an advertisement or a sign,” she said. “Advertisements are not allowed on construction fences.”
It is no secret, however, that such advertisements abound, and on Sunday morning Mr. Seiler pointed to a construction fence near his studio that was covered with dozens of pasted posters.
“We’re bombarded by ads every day,” he said. “Advertising frames the public environment as being for sale but public space is not inherently commercial.”
At 10:30, Mr. Seiler and his confederates broke up into pairs, bringing along five-gallon buckets of white paint and long-handled rollers to use to spread the paint over ads.
There were ads for drinks (Bulldog Gin, Hendrick’s Gin and Dr Pepper), movies (a comedy called “Black Dynamite,” along with a documentary about President Obama called “By the People”) and albums (“World Painted Blood” by Slayer was pasted next to “Soulbook” by Rod Stewart).
Some passers-by liked the commandolike cover-ups; an artist named Jane Gennaro, who was not connected to the project, approved of the men painting over an ad for the video game Grand Theft Auto, saying, “We need to get rid of all the visual noise.”
But on West 25th Street, a man chased two of the whitewashers, shouting, “I will sue you.”
In any event, the newly painted-over spots were not to remain blank for long. Within hours, men driving pickup trucks with New Jersey license plates put up new ads where the artists had obscured the old ones.
One of those men, on West 25th Street, refused to identify himself or the company he was working for, instead responding to an inquiry from a reporter with an epithet, and the directive, “Take a walk.”
Over the next hour or so, control of the billboards changed hands several times, with the pickup truck drivers pasting up ads for movies and parties, as — sometimes separated by only a block or so — groups of artists pasted their own images over the ads.
Meanwhile, Mr. Seiler said, five people taking part in the project were arrested on unspecified charges.
Near the end of the afternoon, one of the artists, who gave his name as Gaia, donned a disguise consisting of a black eye mask and a plastic bag that he pulled over his head like a hood. He then pasted up an image he had made of a snarling grizzly bear.“Hopefully, this gets a chance to engage in some dialogue with the viewers,” said the artist. “In two hours it’s going to be gone.”