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Artworks Tell Story of American Culture, History

America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Placesi
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Faiza Elmasry
August 27, 2014 9:33 PM
Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Faiza Elmasry

“Allies Days, May 1917,” an impressionistic scene of flags fluttering over midtown Manhattan, was painted by Childe Hassam to celebrate the United States' entry into World War I.  It is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art, and throughout August at a bus stop in downtown Washington and in hundreds of other locations across the country.

Art beyond museum walls

It’s part of Art Everywhere, the largest outdoor art campaign in the U.S. The open-air art galleries present reproductions of 58 American paintings, photographs and other works of art spanning 230 years of history in 50,000 unexpected locations.

“It’s really educating people about the foundation of the American visual culture,” says Charles Brock, associate curator of American and British painting at the National Gallery of Art. “The idea of using public spaces to advertise great artworks of American art and to bring attention to works in parts of the country that might not even know about these paintings or their locations.”

Another goal is to encourage people to visit museums.

“Museums, of course, are dedicated to preserving culture for future generations, and so we have to make sure the future generations are interested,” Brock said.

From Britain to the U.S.

The campaign was inspired by Art Everywhere in the U.K., co-founded last year by Richard Reed.

“Art Everywhere literally started in my walk to work in London down a nasty dirty street,” Reed recalled. “But I noticed some beautiful work of art on a wall. It gave me a reason to stop. I looked at it and it was beautiful. It gave me lift in my way to work and I though, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could do it on every street across all of the U.K.?”

The campaign was so successful that it got the attention of the international media.

“America said it was going to do it. And America to me is a country that does things bigger and better; more posts more prominent places, wonderful art all across the country. It’s an amazing effort,” Reed said.

Voting on iconic paintings

Last April, Americans were invited to vote online to select the works to be included, from among 100 offered by the participating museums. “Nighthawks,” the iconic 1942 oil painting by Edward Hopper, which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago, received the most votes. Hopper is one of a handful of artists with multiple works on the list. Others are Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns and Willem de Koonig.   

Stephan Freitas, spokesman of The Outdoor Advertising Association of America, which is sponsoring Art Everywhere, says the campaign has been like a treasure hunt.

“We have people traveling on vacation and they see art,” he said. “People are going to the website. They are using the map and they’re looking for and finding the pieces of art. We’ve encouraged people through Instagram to upload selfies for themselves with the artwork and at the end we’re going to randomly select the winners.”

Open-air art gallery

As Art Everywhere comes to an end, everyone seems to come out a winner.

“I’m from Phoenix [Arizona], where art is not really as celebrated and putting this I guess in public places allows people to see art when they’re not going to museums,” said Kurt Gunther, who has just moved to Washington D.C.

Tanaka Rubens enjoyed the artwork he saw around New York City on his vacation.

“It’s amazing to be here in New York and see all this work of art for free,” he said.

Michael Vidikan suggested, “It would be great if they did it year round.”

Art Everywhere gives museums an opportunity to share its hidden treasures, and it gives the public a chance to experience art in unique ways.

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