The Billboard Chronicles: Art, Sex, and Everything in Between

juliet Throughout the month of August, billboards along the High Line displayed public art, sexy ads, and more. Photo by Friends of the High Line

First David Beckham showed us his underwear. Then the Armani chicks flaunted their sexy bodies in bathing suits. Earlier this month, Larry Flynt got in on the action. And now Charlie’s Angels are taking it over.

Enlargeflynt v adams

Along with the water towers, steam pipes, smoke towers, historic warehouses, and newly-built residential and commercial buildings, the succession of billboard advertisements along the West Side are part of the vibrant cityscape on view from the High Line.

In addition to the advertisements, public art has made its way into the mix. The billboard in the parking lot next to the High Line at West 18th Street has been the site of Landscape with Path, a series of large-scale images selected by photographer Joel Sternfeld as part of our High Line Art program.

Thanks to Edison Properties, the owner of the parking lot and the billboard, for the entire month of August, park visitors have enjoyed Robert Adams’ Nebraska State High Way 2, Box Butte County, a classic American landscape showing a quiet country road, devoid of cars or any other human presence, where a gathering of cottonwood leaves in the foreground is the sole activity. Today is the final day to view the artwork. It is coming down to make way for the final photograph in Sternfeld’s series.

Robert Adams’ image was not alone in its debut when it was installed earlier this month. As you walked north along the High Line or 10th Avenue, it was impossible to miss the giant advertisement, located just one block north, for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. (The ad was replaced earlier this week by a new ad for the Charlie’s Angels.)

In his recent review of current pubic art in New York City, New York Times art critic Ken Johnson commented on the peculiar combination of art and advertisement.

“Mr. Adams’s photograph works not only because of its drive-in-movie scale but also because it is so different from the kind of visual material that normally attracts and assaults the public eye,” he says. “A few yards farther up the High Line, strollers come upon another billboard: not an artwork but a huge advertisement for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. With its blaring purple and gold hues and the come-hither expression of the sultry woman it pictures, it must be an embarrassing thorn in the side of the High Line’s administrators, who clearly favor low-key subtlety over high-impact flash.”

Actually, Mr. Johnson, we enjoy the dueling billboards. Sure, they may raise a few eyebrows along the High Line, and we understand that some may find them distasteful, but we think the juxtaposition is a reminder of what makes our city so unique. The ever-changing neighborhoods along Manhattan’s West Side create a complex urban environment, where cultures clash and opinions are never in short supply. Elevated 30 feet in the air, the High Line gives you a new way of seeing this evolving cityscape. And as New Yorkers, would we want it any other way?

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