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This App Transforms Subway Ads Into Fine Art

Make your commute a "curated art experience" through augmented reality.

The Heavy Projects on Vimeo

Some might argue that New York's subway advertisements are already art, what with the way creative vandals hack and paint them into grotesque mockeries. But if you want a more sublime experience, try downloading "No Ad," a new app that swaps the MTA's ubiquitous advertising for striking paintings and statements like, "Tear Down This Ad!"

The subversive app was produced by the tech-focused art group Re+Public and the Subway Art Blog, and uses augmented reality to make its digital magic. Point your device at a billboard on a subway platform and it will scan the image for copies in its database. If the app recognizes the ad, it will replace it on the screen with an image created by one of 50-plus artists. If you do it again the next month the art might change, as "No Ad" promises frequent updates to keep current with the rapid pace of big-city marketing.

Here are the app's makers explaining their mission:

New York City has one of the largest and most robust transit networks in the world with a subway system spanning 468 stations throughout the five boroughs. On average, there are over 4 million daily rides, making the subway system by far the most used form of transit in New York City. Littered throughout almost every station is a repetition of movie, television, product, and alcohol ads, which take advantage of NY’s immense captive transit audience and turn our daily commute into one long commercial for the latest products and commercial ideas. For a city that prides itself on being a leading cultural center, and despite the valiant efforts of our MTA arts programming, New York City subways seem to lack a cultural richness befitting this great metropolis.

The inaugural gallery comes loaded with great-looking works from many street artists, including some this site has covered. There's Jilly Ballistic of fake computer error-message fame; Jon Burgerman, who has turned action-movie posters into murder scenes; and Vermibus, who subjects ad models to a chemical process that makes it seem like their skin is dripping off. Download it on iTunes or Google Play. And please let me know if it is capable of erasing the omnipresent Dr. Zizmor.

H/t Urbanshit

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.