A Lost Cause? Alfredo Jaar’s “A Logo for America”

by Corinna Kirsch on July 28, 2014 Newswire

alfredo jaar this is not america

When Alfredo Jaar’s glittering “A Logo for America” video first played on a Times Square billboard in 1987, it riled up New Yorkers. Of course it did: The video, which played every six minutes for a month, shows the words “This is not America” inside the outline of the United States. “A Logo for America” will receive a second life this week; beginning on August 1, the video will pop up on Times Square signs and screens between 11:57 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. But this 2.0 version loses some of the video’s original intent to reach a broad—and hopefully attentive—audience.

Who hangs out in Times Square at midnight? Drunken tourists, panhandlers dressed as Spiderman, and other blinking signs. Who pays attention to billboards at midnight? Not many, unless they’re lost and need guidance from the blinking lights above. Then there’s that questionable decision to play “A Logo for America” once a day instead of every six minutes; we guess it must be harder to take airtime away from advertisers than it was in 1987.

Looking back at his original project, Alfredo Jaar himself doubted the political impact of his work. In a 2009 interview with The Brooklyn Rail, he remarked on the outcome of “A Logo for America”:

That project was a lost cause. [Laughter.] The most frustrating reaction was when NPR sent a journalist around interviewing people while they were watching it on the screen in Times Square. Some of them said live on national radio, “This is illegal. How could they let him do this?” … However, you should be happy to know that “A Logo for America” is my most reproduced work. It is used in a dozen textbooks to teach young students about globalization.

Yes, Jaar’s video does look more successful in reproductions (as we can see above), helping to extend the project’s life. And though we’d like to hope for the best with this current iteration, we just imagine that history will repeat itself—and “A Logo for America” will remain yet another lost cause in the name of public art.

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