Street artists turn entire cities into open-air galleries, but there are countless ways to carry out urban art interventions, and they’re at their most fun when they subvert existing structures. Virtually anything can be transformed into a surface or medium for art: billboards, phone booths, construction walls, street signs and even furniture discarded on the curb. Sometimes the motivation is political – calling attention to how much public space is dedicated to advertising, for example – but sometimes it’s just fun, like painting clown faces on busted couches.
Art in Ad Places Takes on Phone Booths
Pay phones themselves may have largely disappeared long ago, but the shelters that held them can often still be found on the sidewalks of large cities like New York. ‘Art in Ad Places,’ a campaign replacing outdoor advertising with artwork, partners with artists to install their work in these shelters. 55 new pieces went up in 2017. They say they believe outdoor advertising is visual pollution, psychologically damaging and pushed on viewers without their consent – but the places it’s found is ripe for subversion for other messages. “By replacing advertisements with artwork, Art in Ad Places provides a public service and an alternative vision of our public environment,” they explain.
Vermibus Remixes Ads with Acid
An artist known as Vermibus reduces the impact of advertisements by sweeping through cities and modifying ads with acid to rob them of context and turn them into strange painterly works of art. It’s a literal smear campaign, and it’s kind of genius. All he has to do is don a safety vest, remove the ads, take them home to transform them and then put them back up.
“By opening those spaces, I make them vulnerable and I create a conversation not only with the brands or the companies that put advertising in the public space but also with the citizen, breaking the unidirectional message,” the artist says in an interview with Open Walls Gallery. “Awareness is a very important and personal part of every artwork… the adverts might be legitimate if the viewer decides consciously to see them. But in order to have a conscious decision about that, we need to be aware of their dangers and for that we should be informed in the first place. [Advertising] is addictive, affects mentally and chemically our body, our decisions, our environment… it has a huge risk on all the levels that we are ignoring.”
Curbside Furniture Art by Lonesome Town
The unwanted furniture we kick out to the curb gets a chance to vent, however temporarily, in the hands of artist Lonesome Town. Traveling through Los Angeles, the artist paints sad clown faces on couches, chairs, computer monitors and other rejects. For a few brief days, each piece gets its time in the spotlight, becoming a work of art before it’s hauled off to the dump to die. Follow Lonesometown9 on Instagram for lots more.
Spontaneous Temporary Interventions by Brad Downey
American-born, Berlin-based artist Brad Downey is a master of Dada hacktivism, turning everyday objects and infrastructure in cities into whimsical, temporary works of art. A bike left chained beside a river might become a fountain, for example; he’ll put a public bench on skates, cut out a chunk of the pavement and stand it on end, tear down street signs and reassemble them into spiky sculptures. Sometimes his larger sculptural works are commissioned, but more often, he’s working intuitively, taking opportunities as he sees them. Each piece is a fun reinterpretation of its materials, sometimes rendering the objects useless and sometimes making them more effective.