Clark Whittington is refurbishing vintage cigarette machines to dispense "original artworks, drawings and photography," reports Nick Haramis in the Wall Street Journal (4/30/11). He's been at this for 13 years now, and currently has about 1,000 of his Art-O-Mat machines installed at locations worldwide. The artwork costs between five and seven dollars apiece, and includes both on-spec and commissioned pieces. Corey Hengen is among Art-O-Mat's best-selling artists, and naturally loves the idea. "Art-O-Mat brings art to people who might never go to a gallery," he says.
Art-O-Mat is one of a number of vending machines dispensing surprising wares: "In the Netherlands, vending machines birth rental bicycles ... In Los Angeles, you can buy Quiksilver brand bikinis and board shorts ... In Miami's Catholic-heavy Little Havana, they sell prayer candles from dispensing boxes stamped with an image of the Virgin and Child." In Nanjing, China, you can buy "live hairy crabs" from machines at subway stations. But Japan has more vending machines per capita -- 23 -- than any other country, selling "everything from live lobsters to lingerie, toilet paper to rhinoceros beetles."
Of course, it's not that unusual to find crawfish, crayfish, minnows or worms in American vending machines, courtesy of Live Bait Vending. The same machines also dispense cold drinks. Freshly prepared food is the thing in Australia, with a machine that serves up French fries. In France you can get wine and bread, while Italy has the famous Let's Pizza machine, which whips up a fresh pie. Abu Dhabi probably takes the cake, however, with Gold to Go, a vending machine that dispenses coins and bullion, "aimed at both private investors and tourists." Seventeen such machines currently dot the planet, with gold prices starting at $42. ~ Tim Manners, editor.
Glorifying a blight
By RICH LOWRY
Rarely does a museum ex hibit cause a crime spree. That's the dubious distinc tion of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where a show on "street art" -- a k a vandalism -- has inspired graffiti "artists" to deface nearby buildings.
The museum's director, Jeffrey Deitch, has long experience in legitimizing graffiti. When he was in New York, his SoHo gallery specialized in the work of the spray-can and Magic Marker set. When he hosted a show featuring a replica of a graffiti-scarred ghetto street in 2000, the NYPD arrested one of the alleged artists under suspicion for having earlier defaced a Bronx middle school.
For all the self-congratulatory transgressiveness of Deitch and other promoters of graffiti, they tend to blithely accept only damage to other people's property, as Heather Mac Donald notes in a withering critique in the City Journal of the "Art in the Streets" show.
The museum paints over graffiti on its own back wall, and "doesn't even permit visitors to use a pen for note-taking within its walls," Mac Donald writes, "an affectation unknown in most of the world's greatest museums." MOCA's implicit attitude is "Heedless acts of vandalism for thee, but not for me."
"Art in the Streets" is simply a glorification of the loathsome practice of painting your name or doodles on someone else's property. As Mac Donald documents, graffiti culture celebrates routine acts of theft and intersects with street gangs. It involves a lifestyle (late-night forays to break the law) and brings consequences (criminal records) that are destructive to young lives.
Then there are the effects for everyone else. Surely, some vandals are gifted artists, just as some drug dealers have keen business minds. But so what?
Graffiti is almost always hideously ugly. It damages private and public property. It costs millions of dollars to fight and remove. It was the cutting edge of the wave of disorder that nearly sank pre-Giuliani New York City. If an aspiring artist is ambitious and talented, there's an obvious recourse -- find a canvas and paint on it. It worked for Rembrandt.
The people who run and back the museum are fortunate enough not to live in neighborhoods beset by graffiti or to own property likely to be targeted for the "art" they celebrate. It's not their children running around with spray cans or their businesses being vandalized. They can afford to excuse and patronize a public nuisance that is the bane of communities everywhere. They are a disgrace even to the decadent elite.