Exploding Flowers and Robert Wilson Portraits Supplant Ads on Time Square Jumbotrons

Ori Gersht’s “Big Bang 01” (2006) plays in Times Square

April 5, 2012
by Benjamin Sutton 

Photo by Lovis Dengler, 2012

Things are looking up for New Yorkers used to trudging through Times Square with their eyes on the ground to avoid the non-stop stream of ads on the screens overhead. This month the Times Square Alliance (TSA) and Times Square Advertising Coalition (TSAC) have teams up to launch “Times Square Moment,” a program that, for a few minutes before midnight every night, turns off the advertisements and broadcasts video art to thousands of passersby.

The first featured artist is London-based Israeli Ori Gersht, whose short “Big Bang 01” (2006) — in which a bouquet of flowers filmed in the style of a classical still-life explodes in slow motion — is screening nightly until April 30. Preparing the lush, single-channel video to play on enormous screens for thousands of distracted viewers was no easy feat. “We had to reconfigure the film at the studio and reassemble it,” Gersht told ARTINFO in an email. “There were many screens and therefore a lot of preparation and technical challenges.”

“We asked Ori to preview this program to coincide with the birth of spring in New York,  as well as the birth of this project,” Sherry Dobbin, the TSA’s director of public art, told ARTINFO, “and also to show that an iconic reference such as a still life can be re-contextualized for a contemporary, general public audience.”

The second artist in the “Times Square Moment” program — Gersht’s presentation is technically a preview — also tackles a storied art historical genre. “We will officially launch the program on May 1 with the Robert Wilson Video Portraits,” says Dobbin. “We have also partnered with Chashama/ArtistsWanted and Electronic Art Intermix as upcoming curators.”

Selecting video art that could translate successfully in such an unconventional venue isn’t the only major challenge the TSA faced. “Logistically, every sign is separately managed and has different technical specifications,” TSA president Tim Tompkins explained. “Many players and approvals are involved, and of course the advertisers are donating valuable time.”

This isn’t the first time the square’s giant screens have taken a break from advertising to diffuse video art to unsuspecting tourists. Beginning in 2008 the non-profit arts organization Creative Time used the MTV screen between 44th and 45th streets for its “44 1/2” screening series, which showed short art videos by the likes of Gilbert & George,Marilyn Minter, and Maya Lin. That program ended in 2010, though MTV’s newfound interest in video art hasn’t gone away: it has now relaunched its popular “Art Breaks” series of bite-sized video art clips. The idea of putting art between the ads seems to be hot. 

Watch Ori Gersht’s short video “Big Bang 01” (2006), which plays in Times Square every night at 11:57pm until April 30.