Taking America’s Art History to the Streets 

With the public art show “Art Everywhere U.S.,” everyday Americans will be exposed to the rich artistic history of the nation without ever having to step into a museum. 

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nightlife
Nightlife, 1943

Archibald John Motley Jr./The Art Institute of Chicago 

Americans are going to start noticing something different about the public space in August, and their daily commute will get a lot more artistic and interesting.

That’s when “the largest outdoor art show ever,” “Art Everywhere U.S.,” is set to launch—displaying 58 pieces of American art across billboards and on buses, as well as in airports, malls, movie theaters and other public spaces, across all 50 states. The first such art show of its kind to appear in this country, “Art Everywhere U.S.” debuts after a similar public-space exhibition in the United Kingdom was launched last year.

“I think the point here is that it’ll be hard for [some] 300 million Americans to miss this campaign, because it will be in all 50 states and it will be in major cities and in rural communities on highways,” campaign spokesman Max Anderson—Eugene McDermott director at the Dallas Museum of Art, one of the contributing museums—told The Root. “I just don’t think it’s going to be possible, even for a very distracted commuter, kid going to school or family going on a shopping trip not to have a conversation about American art in August.”

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Blind Singer, 1942

William H. Johnson, Whitney Museum of American Art 

Earlier this year, the American public had the chance to choose among about 100 pieces identified by five leading museums: the Art Institute of Chicago, Dallas Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art and Whitney Museum of Modern Art. Members of the public got to pick what they wanted to see all over the U.S. The result—a collaboration with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America as well as the respective artists and estates and other groups—is an outdoor exhibition that brings the visual arts to the public.                 

Among the pieces are notable works from legendary African-American artists Romare Bearden, William Henry Johnson, Archibald Motley and Charles White. To Anderson it was just a clear indication that the art show would be representative of what America actually looks like.

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Harvest Talk, 1953

Charles Wilbert White/The Art Institute of Chicago 

“The show has to reflect America. It has to reflect the background of artists who are from across the world and moved here, or were born here of backgrounds of such diversity,” he said. “I think it’s essential that kids of any background see themselves in this campaign and that those who may be familiar only with some artists meet new artists. That’s a part of the campaign.

“It’s hard to do in 58 images [representing more than] 200 years [of history]. With so many thousands of artists, it’s impossible to distill,” he added. “But I hope it’s an incentive to learn about the artistic traditions, whether of African-American artists or any artist of color, or women artists, or ... artists whose names haven’t been heard before.”

One of the artworks featured in the show is Soul Three, a 1968 piece by Romare Bearden that has its home at the Dallas Museum of Art. To Anderson it is one of the great representations of the “creativity of African-American culture.”

“It’s about music, which of course is something that African-American tradition is internationally understood through. The jazz age [is] one of the major contributions of the era,” he said of the Pablo Picasso-inspired collage piece, made from fabric and paper.

soul_three
Soul Three, 1968

Romare Bearden/Dallas Museum of Art

“So ... in different ways he’s celebrating a culture of African-American creativity, which often relied on found materials because it was too expensive to procure a fresh new canvas or the materials for other artworks. Here we are in 1968, at the time when the civil rights movement is in full flower, and he’s looking back in time and looking at the present, and it’s actually a beautiful eulogy to the creativity of African-American culture.”

Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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