TOWN magazine nyc

SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 —Ryan Holmes

Chinese Artist O Zhang Looks At Our Past Through America’s Billboards

Courtesy of The Vilcek Foundation

Once ubiquitous—though now more like dinosaurs posing in museum’s diorama—billboard advertisements, and therefore the entire American landscape, took a dramatic turn with the arrival of the 21st century.

In a new exhibition at the Vilcek Foundation Gallery, Chinese artist O Zhang looks at the current state of advertising billboards in I Am Your Mirror, an exhibition presenting over two years of photographs of thousands of blank billboards from all over the United States.

The product of a 2,000 mile road trip, Zhang took these photos when driving from California to New Orleans through Memphis, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia. The artist said she loves how beautiful and diverse the country’s  landscape is and how is constantly a changing scenery. But besides the natural landscape, Zhang also found the the fading dream of post-war commercialism especially striking as it’s portrayed through the vaguely depressing billboards. And Zhang further notes that it’s the encapsulation of American history which makes these billboards so intriguing.

But the exhibit is not just a showcase of photographs. Some of the pieces are weather-treated prints, strewn in scattered piles underneath—you guessed it—a blank billboard.

I Am Your Mirror is a delightfully engaging exhibit, and one that is really quite thought-provoking on a subject of which most people are unaware … though not because of ignorance. Instead these reasons lie in deeper spaces, like the fact that these are now simply outdated symbols of a less tech-savvy past, now deemed, in certain ways, commercially irrelevant. But, to be sure, these billboards have not been forgotten, and, as O Zhang has so beautifully displayed, they are imperative in understanding the history of American commercialism and advertising.

O Zhang’s I Am Your Mirror is on display until Saturday, November 10 at the Vilcek Foundation at 167 East 73rd Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues. For more information, visit

—Ryan Holmes, an Englishman in New York.

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