Bob Zoell's Parking Signs
The current (October 2008) Artforum--the one with the shirtless Swiss farm boy on the back--features a piece by Julia Bryan-Wilson on the billboard as medium. Those of us old enough to remember smoking indoors will also remember when these signs were the last advertising bastion of the tobacco and distilled spirits industries.
Now days they promote consumer products along with movies, TV, and other divisions of their parent company. Clear Channel Outdoor can slap up ad for the dozen radio stations they own here in the LA area, and CBS Outdoor (formerly Viacom Outdoor) can promote CBS-TV, UPN, Showtime, and Paramount Studios.
It all becomes a tight whirlwind of cross-promotion, which gets duplicated in miniature by the art world: LAXART rents the billboard by their space on La Cienega, and in effect, it becomes like the billboard circuitously rented by a business that leases space to the billboard company: you wind up with a sign that says Joe's Tires with a big arrow pointing down.
Besides artists pointing out and promoting art institutions, we have Eli Broad's foundation fund the "Women in the City," LACMA's long-term lease on the billboard on Fairfax and Wilshire, and April Greiman's bastard child from the '84 Olympics: banner blight.
I don't want to imply that these mutually benefiting relationships are problematic per se; institutions and collections gain credibility by collecting and exhibiting great art, and in turn artists gain prestige by having their work bought and displayed by these amalgamators. Today an artist may be interacting with more than a curator; institutional departments for development, communications, sales, and membership may also be incorporating ways to monetize an artist and their work. NBC's 30Rock parodies this incestuous cross-promotion when they show snippets of a comedy sketch with a GE washer as a character.
Some twenty years ago Bob Zoell was involved in a practice that used the typography of the parking sign. I remember stumbling upon one in the downtown warehouse district while I was trying to figure out if I needed to feed the parking meter. The sign said something like, "Hello Missing Children," alluding to the practice of the day that put the offspring of messy divorces on milk cartons. Disorienting and out of context, the signs gave one the sense of being lost among the lost. Zoell's current crop of signs still posses the incongruity that marks them as an artist's intervention into public space, but the arrow now points the viewer to his opening at a commercial gallery on October 25th.