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University of Missouri

Billboard Blowout

Anne Thompson turns billboards into artwork in I‐70 Sign Show.

Mel Bochner’s artwork Blah Blah Blah appeared on the main billboard this summer. A new piece goes up every two months.

This summer, Mel Bochner’s artwork, Blah Blah Blah, appeared on the main billboard of the I‐70 Sign Show, an art exhibit curated by MU adjunct assistant professor Anne Thompson.

More than 300 billboards dot the landscape along the 250‐mile stretch of Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis. Ads for gas stations, hospitals and restaurants stand next to signs for insurance providers, religious organizations and politicians. On one of those billboards, near the Hatton Exit 144, facing westbound traffic, adjunct assistant art professor Anne Thompson, MA ’91, is curating an art exhibit.

You have this thing that wants to get your attention, and people try very hard to ignore them,” Thompson said. “But billboards are such a part of the landscape. Let’s really look at them. Let’s pay attention not just to what the sign is telling us, but what does it mean in conversation with the signs surrounding it.”

Blurred, by Kay Rosen, was the first piece of art to go up on the Sign Show billboard.

Blurred, by Kay Rosen, was the first piece of art to go up on the Sign Show billboard.

With the support of the Mizzou Advantage Media of the Future initiative, the Office of the Provost, the Missouri School of Journalism and DDI Media, Thompson launched the I‐70 Sign Show in April 2014 with artist Kay Rosen. A new piece goes up every two months. Then the artwork moves to an empty billboard on I‐70, making room for the next artist on the main billboard and extending the reach of the Sign Show exhibit. Thompson says this allows the message of each work of art to change given the new context depending on the landscape and the surrounding billboard messages.

Artist Kim Beck’s skywriting work Next Exit currently appears on the main billboard of the I-70 Sign Show. A new piece goes up every two months.

Artist Kim Beck’s skywriting work Next Exit currently appears on the main billboard of the I‐70 Sign Show. A new piece goes up every two months.

Other featured artists include Mel Bochner, Mickalene Thomas and Kim Beck, whose piece Next Exit is on the main billboard. To create her artwork, the Sign Show hired an expert pilot to skywrite phrases including “Space available,” “Open Daily” and “Next Exit” in the clear blue sky above Faurot Field before the Nov. 1 Mizzou versus Kentucky football game. Then Beck photographed the words and selected images to appear on the billboard.

Ken Lum and Karl Haendel’s work will also appear on the billboard before the yearlong project ends.

MU Honors College students are also involved in the project, helping Thompson photograph and categorize all of the I‐70 billboards to create an online archive. To view the artist archive, visit i70signshow.org.