Dealer's choice

The traditional art dealer has been replaced by an interactive machine in a new installation at London's Art Box Gallery.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The latest interactive art installation has been put on view in London. It is the size of a Ford transit van and occupies nearly the entire floor of the newly opened Art Box Gallery in Marlborough Court, off Carnaby Street.

Those who operate it will be forcibly reminded of Karel Capek's vision of robotics, the time-stopping slide projections of Bruce Nauman and Cathleen Lewis's machinery demonstrating the commodification of art.

The viewer sits in a driving seat and presses one of 20 touch-pads on a computerised console, each bearing a postage-stamp sized photographic image. There is a buzzing and a whirring and a mobile crane inside the installation judders along a track, lifts a frame from a rack and carries it to the front of the machine.

A pane of security glass slides down, exposing the frame's contents. This is the merchandise - original works of art corresponding to the photographs. After exactly 30 seconds, the security glass rises and the machinery replaces the artwork in the rack. Here is a chastening insight into what has become of the art marketplace, an exquisite parody of the wire-basket art supermarket culture exemplified by Harvey Nichols.

Interaction is made more realistic by the fact that the art in the machine is actually for sale. I glimpsed works priced between pounds 159 and pounds 3,409. They included a blue and purple collage portrait of Charles Dickens and a contemporary interpretation of Chinese art.

As if to heighten the viewer's sense of alienation, all the artists have Spanish names virtually unknown in this country. To experience further disorientation, you can touch pads to read the artists' CVs in Catalan, besides Spanish, French and English.

The installation is titled The Dealer by its creator, Joan Lao, an art collector and vice-president of a big Spanish corporation, who has installed identical machines in Barcelona and Madrid. He says The Dealer was developed by a team of 50 architects, designers and technical support staff.

The title is an eloquent double-take: even the traditional, old-fashioned art dealer, it seems, has not escaped Lao's satirical eye. Here you have him, wheezing electronically, stripped of his grosser characteristics - the smile, the unctuous rubbing together of the hands. Reduced to his basic role, he mechanically deals art to the consumer, like a giant pack of cards.

In the basement, another deconstructive experience awaits - a console that allows selection of an artist's works by size, shape and price, without the intrusion of aesthetics. The console shows videos of the artists sharpening pencils, making sketches, applying paint. They look almost real.

For an economical experience of the art market, the gallery offers fridge magnets of Michelangelo's nude David, with interchangeable singlets and shorts (pounds 15.20), plastic inflatables of Munch's Scream (pounds 8.20) and Warhol Monroe ties (pounds 50.80).

The Dealer is being franchised in Britain. A second one is to be opened next to the Conran shop in Great Marlborough Street. Lack of art training will not hinder franchisees from full participation in the interactive spirit - the artworks for sale will be chosen by a committee based in Spain.

Owners of the British master franchise are Lauretta Dives, 45, and her mother Elizabeth Monk. Ms Monk is a portraitist but Ms Dives's career has been art-free. She used to supply gift stationery to Marks and Spencer. "All that I know about retailing I have to credit to Marks and Spencer," she saidn

Art Box, Marlborough Court, Carnaby Street, London W1 (0171-437 3377; Website www.artbox.es)

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