A rendering of Sunset Spectacular, courtesy of Tom Wiscombe Architecture

Catherine Opie is set to light up LA’s billboards

The artist joins The Propeller Group and Pipilotti Rist in a new fine-art initiative for Los Angeles

The photographer Catherine Opie is known for documenting the landscape of LA, her adoptive hometown. In fact, some might say it's one of her most impressive subjects.

"I'd like to think that if I lived in the future, I could be a connoisseur of a Catherine Opie photograph," writes the curator Helen Molesworth in our new Opie book, "I’ve been looking at her pictures since the early 1990s, marveling at the desolate Los Angeles freeways, the blank stillness of the domestic exteriors of Southern California, the spooky emptiness of corporate America’s downtowns."


Untitled #3 (Freeways), 1994 by Catherine Opie
Untitled #3 (Freeways), 1994 by Catherine Opie


Now, later this year, her work will, briefly, become part of LA's landscape, when one particularly notable billboard lights up with her work.

Opie joins artists including The Propeller Group and Pipilotti Rist in contributing to the Arts on Sunset, a new series of digital images that will be screened on Sunset Spectacular, a 64ft-tall billboard at 8775 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, created by the California architect, Tom Wiscombe.

The initiative forms part of the City of West Hollywood’s Sunset Arts & Advertising Program, a public arts initiative, that seeks to capitalise on the pop legacy established by Sunset Strip’s evocative adverts.

The billboards of LA occupy a special place in the West Coast’s pop culture. During the 1960s and ‘70s, huge, lavish billboard displays could be seen on Sunset Bouelvard, often advertising the latest major-label rock album release, sometimes featuring artwork by by such famous names as Andy Warhol and Saul Bass.

Sunset Spectacular capitalizes on this heritage, while moving it forward a little. “We wanted to create a depth in the architecture that contrasts with the flatness of the billboard,” Wiscombe, told the Guardian newspaper.


Self-Portrait/Chopping, 2011 by Catherine Opie
Self-Portrait/Chopping, 2011 by Catherine Opie


The first works, currently on show via Sunset Spectacular hark back to the 20th century too, though not in the way you might expect. Volatile Landscapes by artist collective The Propeller Group, examines how unexploded bombs are still shaping Vietnam long after its war with America has ended.

Opie’s commission, which should screen on the billboard in between conventional advertisements and public service programming, will more than likely bring it all closer to home.

“Sunset Strip has a long history of iconic images dotting the cityscape and many artists have had projects there. However, nothing on this scale!” Opie told the Guardian. “I am excited to have my work interact so directly and immediately with the urban environment and to be part of that rich history.”


Catherine Opie
Catherine Opie

To better understand Opie’s long-term involvement with the culture of Los Angeles order a copy of our Opie monograph here; for more on The Propeller Group, consider a copy of Co-Art, and for more on Pipilotti Rist get this book.