Anne Thompson’s I-70 Sign Show is public art project installing socially-sensitive artwork by
contemporary artists onto billboards along I-70, the interstate highway that arcs across Missouri from St. Louis to Kansas City. Spanning the past ten months, the project has contrasted commissions like Kay Rosen’s
red-state, blue-state spectrum BLURRED, Ken Lum’s labor-centric diptych Bindy Sangeet: Employee of the Month and Alia Naffouj: Hooked on Tennis, and Mel Bochner’s BLAH BLAH BLAH with a visual landscape
littered with ads for Monsanto, strip clubs and scripture verses.
However, the sign show shifted into new terrain towards the end of 2014 as Mickalene Thomas’s billboard was installed at the West Florissant exit in North St. Louis. The billboard, which happened to be the first that had been installed in the St. Louis metropolitan area, entered into an unexpected, complex social and visual environment. The billboard was sited just a few exits away from Ferguson, which by that time was in the second wave of dramatic upheaval following the non-indictment of the police officer responsible for the death of teenager Michael Brown. Public space and speech had taken on a different meaning in St. Louis, with any image measured alongside handmade posterboards in thousands of protesting arms or CNN scenes of violence slashing across screens.
Ahead of her lecture on February 19th at fort gondo*, I spoke with curator Anne Thompson about the show’s reception, evolution and endpoint.