from SF Gate

One of the most unusual heists in America seems to be unfolding at Taco Bell

‘They made it sound like they were talking about the Mona Lisa’

By Ariana Bindman

Artist Mark Smith alongside his Taco Bell painting "Empty," featured in the King City, Calif., location.
Artist Mark Smith alongside his Taco Bell painting “Empty,” featured in the King City, Calif., location.Courtesy of Mark Smith and via Yelp user Saralee S.

When artist Mark Smith stepped off the plane from New York and arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, on that fateful day in the early 2000s, he knew he was about to enter one of the most important critiques of his entire career. 

But Smith wasn’t doing a studio visit with the owners of a prestigious gallery — he was meeting with the corporate executives of Taco Bell, the California fast food chain that peddles Crunchwrap Supremes and Baja Blasts to the masses. 

This was back in 2002 or 2003, before the company even created these artificial masterpieces. At the time, Smith was trying to convince them to let him make three paintings that would eventually get rolled out to most, if not all, Taco Bell locations in the U.S. At first, not everyone in the room was onboard with the concept because it was so expensive: It would require making prints of his Basquiat-like paintings, stretching them on canvas and then hanging them in each store to make them feel like real art as opposed to ubiquitous branded messaging. 

But, against these odds, Smith got the green light of approval, and the pieces were distributed in 2003. Over the course of his expansive career, he’s been commissioned to work on projects for major clients like Absolut Vodka, DaimlerChrysler and the Olympics, cementing his status as a professional artist. Life went on, and the trio of paintings faded into memory. 

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