Artists Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel were subverting traditional ideas of how art could function in a public space long before Banksy’s time. The pair began their groundbreaking Billboards project in 1973, creating huge open-ended designs in their workshop under the name Clatworthy Colourvues, and pasting them up on advertising billboards around the San Francisco area. From a cartoon image of a hurricane captioned “Ooh la la!” in reference to French nuclear testing in the Pacific, to sinister alphabet fridge magnets spelling out “Whose news abuses you?” the images they created added an absurd diversion to the California landscape, and revolutionised the role of art in the public environment.
Overall the twosome spent 13 years on the project, creating a number of other smaller works along the way, and yet they’re fairly little known – in these parts at least. It’s a problem that the Stephen Wirtz Gallery is set on rectifying with upcoming exhibition We Make You Us. The show will displays work from the documentation of the long-spanning Billboards alongside other projects. It looks set to be a brilliant tribute to these adept masters of the absurd and the lasting impression they made on contemporary art.
We Make You Us runs until 6 April at Stephen Wirtz Gallery San Francisco.