Less smoke means fine trinkets

In 1997, North Carolina artist Clark Whittington founded Artists in Cellophane, a worldwide partnership of artists who sell their work in 40 refurbished cigarette machines scattered across the country. The cigarette-pack-size paintings, sculptures and photographs dispensed from the knob-operated machine in the Museum of Contemporary Art's gift shop at the Geffen Contemporary represent a cross-section of current trends.

For $5, you get a handsomely crafted abstract painting from Alex Norwood's "Landscapes From Other Planets" series. Or a matchbox-size bronze sculpture of a logging truck made by a group of 18 artists working in the village of Krofofrom, near the town of Kumasi in Ghana, West Africa. Or a ring made of green beads by Japanese artist Naoko Higashi.

No sampling of contemporary art would be complete without a dose of pretentious cynicism. Georgia Kotretsos fills this role with "Your Lunch Break Box," a cardboard carton on which is printed a moralistic message and a cartoon image borrowed from Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. The five plastic soldiers, lollipop, "Sesame Street" decal and other trinkets packed inside are less interesting than the prizes in boxes of Cracker Jacks.

Although the Art-o-Mat dispenser suggests that buying art is as addictive as smoking cigarettes, it has more in common with gumball machines and those that sell tiny toys to kids who just can't resist them.

It's also a form of advertising. Each Art-o-Mat item is accompanied by a Web site address or old-fashioned phone number, where more information and much larger works are avail- able.

-- David Pagel

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