Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Exhibition, installation, vending machines and involuntary publicity all in a day’s work for a brazen K&N artist

A stunt by Danish artist Niels Slaas caught the attention of Northern Virginia officials for all the wrong reasons after he installed more than $10,000 worth of vending machines on a public sidewalk in McLean on Sunday morning.

Slaas, who created the installation as part of the current exhibition at the Liddell Galleries in Liddell Square, paid for the service of an annual customer loyalty program from the museum to run the machines on New Hampshire Avenue, according to the Fairfax Times.

The machines, designed to dispense money for $1, were “pilot launched” and rented out through the monthly Skyway Rewards program. “It was very worthwhile for McLean, and quite an extraordinary and intriguing thing for McLean,” Liddell Galleries director Zane Walrath told the Fairfax Times. “We tried to be very transparent.”

But that didn’t stop the ARL from going after Slaas. The local Arlington Economic Development Board advised ARL officials that the manager of a nearby Starbucks had reported two of the machines missing, according to the paper.

An Arlington County spokeswoman told the paper that officials believe Slaas installed three devices after he made the arrangements.

According to a news release, Slaas, in consultation with ARL communications director Caitlin Litwiller, crafted a media release responding to a flurry of media inquiries and attempted to respond directly to the ARL.

“Which is not,” Litwiller wrote, “the most effective response to accusations of an organized enterprise stealing from public property.”

A Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman said the agency is working with ARL to secure the machines and provide proper oversight.

“Like the city of Arlington, we take theft of public property seriously,” ODOT spokeswoman Jessica Damico said in an email. “Any person caught tampering with or destroying public property will be referred to the Attorney General’s office, and may be criminally prosecuted.”

Slaas’s annual business transaction could be worth the art installation, according to his story. He described the exposure the installation received as so spectacular that it was actually enhancing the value of the vending machines through sales at his iTEN website, his statement reads.

“The public reaction to the installation was unanticipated in many ways, but it only strengthens the feelings of satisfaction and the realization that it’s all been worth it,” he said.

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