Visitors to Times Square experience an overload of commercial stimuli: glossy advertisements, flashing brand names and airbrushed models. But Yale professor and professional photographer Lisa Kereszi sees this popular tourist destination as the perfect place for art.
Earlier this fall, Kereszi, who currently serves as the director of undergraduate studies in the Art Department, debuted a new piece of public art on a billboard at the corner of 48th Street and Seventh Avenue in Times Square. The billboard, titled “City on Stage,” features an iconic photograph of a young dancer as she poses on the stage of a New York theater that has since been destroyed and rebuilt. The billboard was sponsored by 14×48, a company founded by Ben Beinecke ’07 SOM ’10 and Sharon Madanes ’08 which repurposes vacant billboards into public art.
“I hope the image sticks with [the viewers],” Kereszi said. “It certainly doesn’t blend in with the highly photoshopped women and really crisp digital capture of the other photographs in Times Square.”
Kereszi said that she appreciated the Times Square setting for its intriguing combination of anonymity and exposure. In contrast with most examples of public art — such as large sculptures in city centers — Kereszi likes that her work flies under the radar.
“I like that people might not know what they’re looking at,” Kereszi said. “They might think it’s art, but they also might think it’s an ad for a Broadway show, or they might think it’s something completely different.”
Kereszi also noted that, according to statistics gathered by the company that donated the billboard, about 500,000 people see the billboard each week. As the billboard is scheduled to be displayed for four weeks, approximately two million people will see the photograph. Kereszi called this exposure an “incredible potential audience for an artist.”
Rocky Bostick ’18, a former student of Kereszi’s who saw the billboard in person, said he spent “a lot of time thinking” about the image and “experienced it in levels.”
“The image’s being situated in Times Square added an additional layer, since the performer at the center was made all the smaller and [more] insignificant in relation to the magnified airbrushed faces in the surrounding advertisements,” Bostick added.
All artists who apply to have their work featured on one of 14×48’s billboards also must submit an idea for a supplementary community engagement program.
Kereszi’s idea particularly impressed the 14×48 admissions committee.
“One of the main things we evaluate in applications is the supplement,” Beinecke said. “Lisa had a really strong one, which is this really fun and engaging scavenger hunt that engages people with the history of photography and the New York urban landscape.”
Kereszi’s scavenger hunt prompts participants to scour New York and take a series of photographs inspired by the work of her favorite photographers. The hunt begins by prompting participants to photograph the intersection of 48th and Seventh and ends by requesting a photograph of the rebuilt theater in which the billboard image was taken.
Kereszi said that though the scavenger hunt “came together really quickly,” she believes it is a vital part of the exhibition.
“As a photographer and an educator, the scavenger part was important,” she said. “I wanted it to reflect New York City history as I know it and teach it.”
Kereszi highlighted the hunt’s “extra credit” task, which asks participants to choose an image by a photographer from an underrepresented community and post the photograph online. Kereszi hopes this final task will expose more people to lesser-known photographers. She noted that she is most interested in seeing who people choose.
Kereszi believes that her ideas have come across to viewers.
“People seem to get what I was trying to do in making them think about what was here in Times Square before and not just be passive recipients of all this visual information — to try to think of New York as this organism that’s always growing and changing, that’s a palimpsest,” she said. “When I went there, I felt like it was a portal into a Times Square and New York that is now gone.”
The billboard will remain in Times Square until mid-November.
Jack McCordick | email@example.com .