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Supergraphic Soap Opera

March 29, 2009

pepsi-billboard-2Last Thursday, the LA planning commission voted on the issue of whether or not supergraphics (giant billboard-style posters covering large buildings) and other large scale advertising should be allowed to continue. However, a court battle continues, the outcome of which may play a part in the ultimate removal or allowance of supergraphics in LA.

This is a hotly debated issue, with emotions running high on both the pro and anti-supergraphic camps. Speaking for the supergraphics is Michael McNeilly, an enterprising businessman and, if you buy his story, an artist as well. McNeilly is the founder of Skytag, an ad agency who aggressively places giant promo posters on buildings. Skytag was founded in 1969, and has certainly pulled in piles of cash over the years. But as of recently Mr. McNeilly has found his true calling as an artist; albeit an artist whose métier is pasting giant graphics on buildings. Coincidentally, this is what Skytag has been doing for years, except with ads instead of works of fine art.

1969-libSo, what works of art has Mr. McNeilly produced? As it turns out, there’s only really one: a kitchy trace of the Statue of Liberty, a tear in her eye, with the subtitle “1969” emblazoned in football uniform font below. McNeilly feels this magnum opus is so important that it deserves to be thrown up on dozens of LA skyscrapers – oddly enough, he hasn’t posted a single supergraphic that differs from the core Liberty design. But he feels his poster is awesome, and he’s even written a pseudo-artistic explanation of the deeper meaning behind his rendition of old Lady Liberty:

The series of murals depict the iconic symbol of freedom and
liberty and the year 1969, a year of great accomplishments and change in America.
The seeds of the Internet sewn, Woodstock, Vietnam war divides America and Apollo 11, man’s first steps on the moon. The three colors of the sky behind “Liberty” represent red for the crisis and challenges America faces now, white for clarity in seeing truth and justice and blue for hope and change. The tear in the eye of Liberty is for the sacrifices made by our soldiers, first responders and veterans protecting our security, rights and freedom.

So does tearing these posters down mean you hate our troops? McNeilly is adamant that these posters are artistic expressions protected under the first amendment. However, a recent Times article indicates that there may be an ulterior motive behind McNeilly’s bohemian impulses. McNeilly is currently suing the city of LA to retain the ability to post his works of art at 118 sites across the city. McNeilly argues that, since he’s already posted his Lady Liberties on these buildings, he should be allowed to continue posting giant artwork there. But as it turns out, some of these sites don’t have posters at all, and others have tiny 5’x5′ posters. Some cynics, who obviously don’t understand McNeilly’s artistic vision, have speculated that McNeilly will start posting giant commercials on these sites as soon as he wins his court case, and that these great artistic œuvres are really economies of scale, manufactured cheaply and posted at a loss to steak out highly profitable ad space for later. But they know nothing of art. McNeilly just wants to share his vision with the world!

On the other side of the issue are irate homeowners. These people are angry, because as wealthy homeowners they are always angry. Now, the NIMBYs have settled on supergraphics as the latest threat to their good honest apple-pie-eating way of life, and the outrage begins. One weepy Silverlake resident bemoans the fact that “[McNeilly] is robbing the residents of our city of the right and access to unobstructed views of our mountains, beautiful skies and landscape”. Seeing as these supergraphics cover preexisting buildings, this would be akin to saying that your neighbor getting a new paint job blocks your view of the mountains. And I thought Silverlake residents were supposed to be intellectuals!

In short, the supergraphic debate is a bad cause pitted against another bad cause. And as such, I am completely apathetic about the outcome. I could care less whether or not supergraphics appear on buildings; although it would sadden me to see a cynical pseudo-artistic millionaire make a killing on ad space, it would also sadden me to see NIMBYs get their way – again. Wake me up when this debate is over.

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