App lets subway riders replace station ads virtually with artworks

Subway station ads can be informative, capitalist assaults on the senses or  invitations to vandalism. But an app launched Wednesday turns them into works of art.

With No Ad, a user can point their camera at a wide-format vinyl ad in a subway station and see it replaced virtually with a work by one of about 50 artists. 

“There were artists who tried to put art down in the subway legally and illegally,” said Jowy Romano, 30, who runs Subway Art Blog and collaborated on No Ad. “We want to give them a legal way to do that.”

Romano joined with tech and design firm The Heavy Projects and artist Jordan Seiler of PublicAdCampaign to develop No Ad. In a video for No Ad, the street art of Keith Haring and the cut-and-paste collages of Poster Boy are highlighted.

(Romano said a few works from Poster Boy are loaded into the app.)

No Ad has staying power that guerrilla art lacks, Romano said.

“Who knows how long that lasts — hours or maybe a couple of days if they’re lucky,” Romano said. “We associate [the artwork] with one specific ad and that scales to the rest of the system.”

Romano plans to keep the app updated when new ads are posted in subway stations and to expand the number of artists who contribute. He said he is in talks with curators and organizations to supply more pieces.

Romano said he wants to bring art to more people. “The subway is a perfect place to do that because people from all walks of life are in there.”