Lost in the ‘Art Machine’


The $25 date with artist Ryan McGinness got a buyer immediately, but many other artists’ wares went unsold in the “Art Machine.”

Greene Street contemporary art gallery The Hole opened a show earlier this month that invited collectors to buy art through a vending machine. The wares? Curator and critic Carlo McCormick successfully peddled his $27 “Life Is Hard, Take Drugs” packets, which contained, according to people in the gallery last night, either a Vicodin or a quaalude. Artist Charles Shedden’s two Manhattan and Brooklyn phonebooks, edited to include only sexually suggestive names–“like David Asswipe,” the artist explained. (Still unsold.)  The show closes today, and nine moustache hairs plucked by JD Samson, formerly of Le Tigre and now in the band MEN, remain in the machine at $50 each. Also unsold are one or two Kenny Scharf prints, a Todd James watercolor, and markers from graffiti artist KRINK.
The “Art Machine” operates much like any other vending machine, but is stocked with boxes and paper bags, each labeled with an artist’s name and a polaroid of the object for sale. Customers select items by punching in a number, swipe a credit card for the displayed price–between $5 and $1,200–then grabtheir item out of the slot. As one work sells, a new one rotates into its place. Downtown “lifestyle concept” collective Alife approached The Hole with the idea to build the illuminated vending machine, The gallery agreed and supplied about half of the artists; Alife brought in the rest.

Many of the higher-priced items were stuck in the front at last night’s closing party, however, as partygoers and participating artists tended toward the pill grab-bag and the Alife T-shirts, which cost less than $30. Several attendees said they had hoped to buy photographer Clayton Patterson’s undeveloped disposable camera, but that was one of the first items to sell. The artist said he shot pictures on it of “art shows, rock and roll shows, of a street thug, a Lower East Side gangster.”
We might see more of the vending machine, said The Hole co-founder Kathy Grayson, a former Deitch Projects director. This exhibition was just “a way to work out the kinks,” she said. After this, the machine will go on the road, stopping at the Athens Biennial. Grayson, who was waiting last night to buy an Evan Gruzis painting once it reached the front, said she could imagine them someday appearing “all over the place–in gallery districts, cool retail locations, curbs, wherever.”
At the end of the night, we scanned the offerings, and decided that the mystery medicine seemed like the best value. Upon opening the envelope on the way out we were disappointed to find not narcotics, but a single $27 acetaminophen capsule.