The Public Works project involves more than four hundred artists filling outdoor billboards in Rotterdam with autonomous work.

When corona broke out in the Netherlands, the world came to a standstill. The city was deserted and restaurants, museums and theatres closed. The void also showed on the outdoor billboards because campaigns were cancelled. Posters announcing performances that would never take place yellowed with age. But this also offered opportunities: filling the poster frames with art. From 9 July to 9 August, 900 billboards will display illustrations, images and photos from Rotterdam artists.

‘It has long been a wish to replace advertising with art,’ says Caro van der Pluijm of BKOR. She is responsible for visual arts in public spaces and is part of the Public Works project team. ‘More people started to notice the old posters in the city. Festival organiser Joost Maaskant and programme maker Rineke Kraaij approached me independently with the idea of filling the frames. A spontaneous project team was created together with graphic designer Sibe Kokke.’

The team appealed to artists using various channels, including through the newsletter of CBK Rotterdam. Everyone could sign up with autonomous work that they thought was suitable for public spaces. We received more than five hundred registrations. Caro van der Pluijm: ‘We selected 450 artists, from visual artists to photographers and illustrators. It’s a very diverse palette ranging from amateur to highly professional.’ Well-known artists such as Joep van Lieshout, Stang Gubbels and Marieke van der Lippen submitted work, and also Rotterdam photographers such as Frank Hanswijk, Hester Blankestijn and Frank van der Salm.

The posters hang in the poster frames of outdoor advertising company Kooyman at metro stations, in tunnels, roundabouts and other outdoor areas such as Pompenburg and ‘s Gravendijkwal. Caro van der Pluijm expects that ‘The nine hundred posters in the centre, Noord, Delfshaven, Charlois, Feijenoord and Kralingen-Crooswijk will have an impact on the street scene. We hope so. It’s good for the city to not be dominated by, for example, Calvin Klein and Lipton Ice Tea for once. Advertising seems harmless, but it really drives consumption. Even young children are being confronted with advertising in the street scene.’

In some locations, such as along the Bergweg, there are so many works of art that it’s become an exhibition that you can walk or cycle past. These larger clusters are marked and can be found on the Publieke Werken Rotterdam website. The artists will also receive prints of their posters to sell for € 35. Caro van der Pluijm: ‘We hope that the project will be continued and that we can select a group of artists again next year. We have many sculptures in the city, but it’s exceptional to have such a large platform purely for visual art.’

The exhibition opens on Thursday 9 July at 20.00. Each artist will create a moment at his/her poster. A photo will be taken of Mayor Aboutaleb with the poster he can be seen on, he was photographed in corona time at a distance of one and a half metres.

Global routes are indicated on the Publieke Werken Rotterdam website and posters can be ordered from the artist. If you see a poster on the street, share it and use #publicworksrotterdam.

Text: Renee Schouwenburg

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