We Make You Us (1985)
Due to some sort of cultural amnesia, Banksy is often credited as the innovator of politically conscious “guerrilla art,” but there have always been weirdos reclaiming public space for social critique. It’s tragic that Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel don’t even get a fraction of Banksy’s name recognition. Sultan and Mandel began collaborating as grad students in 1972, and in ‘73 they began pasting their prints on billboards in the Bay area—sometimes directly over actual advertising. The pair never became very well known outside of the art world, but in 2012 (three years after Sultan’s death) their work was collected for an art book, and now the Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco is running a retrospective on their Billboards.
The series is irreverent and kind of Dada, the images ranging from strange to absurd to banal, mocking consumerism and wealth with a snide humor. In a world of such high media density, you can imagine walking right past one and not noticing the billboard’s content. It reminds me a little bit of Sean Tejaratchi’s work from Liar Town USA, where he manages to imitate the design cliches with a hilarious accuracy. Of course, Sultan and Mandel’s work isn’t direct design parody, but the subversive farce of hiding in plain sight makes for a biting denunciation.
A collection of Larry Sultan’s work is also slated to show later this year, at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Mike Mandel continues to create beautiful works of public art.
Oranges On Fire (1975)
Electric Energy Consumption (1976)
More billboards after the jump…