This summer, images by dozens of famous American artists will be plastered on 50,000 displays from electronic billboards to bus shelters, an initiative by leading museums and the billboard industry to create one of the largest outdoor art exhibitions seen in the country.
Museum directors hope the project, called Art Everywhere, will draw more visitors to their galleries, while the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, devoting about $500,000 to the effort, is betting that great artworks will make looking up fashionable again. With the web pulling dollars away from billboard advertising, some in the advertising industry see it as a move to get millions of Americans to “take your head out of your phone,” explained Rob Schwartz, the global creative president of TBWA, the worldwide advertising agency.
Five museums collaborated — the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — with each submitting 20 works from their collections, from gritty urban scenes to ’60s Pop Art to challenging images reflecting race and gender politics. They include Mr. Johns’s “Three Flags,” Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, Grant Wood’s seminal “American Gothic” and Glenn Ligon’s self-portrait of his shaved head.
Beginning on Monday and running through May 7, the public can view the 100 selections at ArtEverywhereUS.org and vote for favorites. The 50 images that receive the most votes will be announced on June 20 and be reproduced on outdoor displays coast to coast in August.
Starting on Aug. 4, for one month, it may be hard not to notice the ads, especially in hubs like Times Square, where the artworks will saturate the landscape on about a dozen billboards in rotation.
Art Everywhere is a copycat version of an initiative in Britain last summer. It received so much positive attention there that the outdoor advertising trade group asked Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, to help bring it to the United States.
Mr. Anderson, who saw the initiative as a way to celebrate American art, contacted four other museum directors, geographically selected, and asked if they would be interested in participating. “Everyone wrote back to me within a day,” he recalled.
Adam D. Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum, said it submitted a range of works from different periods, including Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning” and Georgia O’Keeffe’s haunting “Summer Days,” as well as a posterlike Los Angeles canvas by Ed Ruscha called “Large Trademark With Eight Spotlights.”
The Whitney also included works by younger artists, like Mr. Ligon’s powerful “Self Portrait #7.”
Douglas Druick, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, said the museum chose “American Gothic,” that 1930 painting of a stern farmer and his dour daughter, along with Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” the evocative 1942 scene in an all-night diner with three strangers seated at the counter. “In the end, it doesn’t matter who the artist is, people are going to vote on the images that strike them,” Mr. Druick said.
Some seasoned advertising executives are skeptical about the mission of Art Everywhere. “People are going to perceive the art as advertising,”... “They are going to think the images are an ad for an exhibition,” he added, saying he thought Art Everywhere was little more than “a pop-up stunt” that in the end would be “demeaning to the art.”
Still, Mr. Druick of the Art Institute of Chicago said museum directors are “hoping that familiarity breeds desire, that people will see an artwork, be struck by it and want to see it in the flesh.”