The American Museum of the Free Publication Distribution Box pays homage to an unsung city icon – Hartford Courant
Like many good jokes, the American Museum of the Free Publication Distribution Box comes from a place of passion and respect.
Combining phenomenology with fun, the “Museum” is a walking tour of empty and abandoned vending machines (called “honor boxes” in the trade) in downtown Hartford. Boxes were once filled with weeklies, auto and real estate sales magazines, telephone books and other pre-digital era ephemera.
The American Museum of the Free Publication Distribution Box consists of stickers with QR codes, like in art museums, affixed to the distribution boxes. Museum visitors scan the codes on their phones and can listen to an audio description of the abandoned vessel.
The boxes are useless now, as the publications they once housed and protected from the elements are gone for good, sent to that great recycling center in the sky.
Alex Traynor is there to honor them.
“I used to deliver these papers. It was work that got me to college. I’ve thought about these boxes all my life. But people pass by them and don’t notice them. They are a ubiquitous part of the American city, in the background of every photo taken in a city.
Traynor created the American Museum of the Free Publication Distribution Box to draw attention to these maligned monuments: “I know where they are all. It even still delivers a publication which exploits its boxes, the Directory of tenants.
The inauguration of the museum took place on March 31. This was the only live event scheduled for the American Museum of the Free Publication Distribution Box, but a pre-recorded audio tour is accessible 24/7 via QR codes on stickers affixed to the boxes. Traynor wrote the audio clips but asked a friend, Richard Armistead, to record them so they would have a more authoritative, museum-friendly narration.
“People don’t need me around [to take the tour]says Traynor. He likes the idea of people coming across the museum stickers and learning that there is more to them.
“I might hang around for a few days to see who shows up,” the self-proclaimed museum director muses.
There is also a website, boxmuseum.org, which parodies the websites of other museums and non-profit organizations. One of the members of the board of directors of the AMFBP is described as follows: “Linda Crinklethorn is the second wife of Burt Crinklethorn. She attended museums such as MOMA, the Smithsonian and the house of Mark Twain. Linda completed a semester at Manchester Community College and currently resides at Buckland Hills Mall.
The site also offers commemorative T-shirts and stickers for sale. The stickers act like trading cards, Traynor says. You cannot get a full set of free post distribution box stickers with one purchase. “You will have to trade with your friends,” he explains.
Traynor is also a comedian who has been making comedy videos since he was in high school (he’s now 32) and posting them on YouTube (youtube.com/user/alextraynor), its own website (alextraynor.com) and elsewhere. “I’ve done a lot of elaborate videos,” he says, “but not an interactive art project like this, with elaborate, convoluted jokes.”
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Traynor chose the day before April Fool’s Day for the launch of his museum. “It’s like a joke,” Traynor says of the AMFBP, but there are also sensitive and serious aspects to the effort.
“It’s a strange concept. It’s not about papers. These are the boxes we’ve all walked past a million times, something we all know but don’t really know. I think people will have some interesting reactions when they find out it’s real. I thought about it a lot after years of delivering to these boxes. They have been a constant presence in my life.
The curator notes that many boxes were intended to peddle publications that hadn’t existed for years, such as a local telephone directory.
Asked about his favorite box, Traynor sings the praises of the Green Jobs Guide receptacles. “They are so elegant.”
Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected].