Monday, August 28, 2006


OK, so you’re in an art museum shop, nosing through the Impressionist calendars and Cezanne-on-a-cup bric-a-brac, and you notice what appears to be… a cigarette vending machine.


“What is this?”, you think, “a MOMA-style exhibition of industrial design?” Hmmm…, you walk closer and it becomes obvious that the machine is not vending death-sticks from the American food-tobacco-drug-&-chemical cartel; it is, in fact, vending art!

You look at the machine again. Art-o-mat, it declares in some variation of 60’s modern display script or cartoon-like banner. It’s an art vending machine! Who’d-a-thunk-it?

Art-o-mat is a project that started in 1997 with a solo art exhibit by artist Clark Whittington at a local cafe in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (ah, the poetic irony of it all). Along with 12 of his paintings, Whittington installed a cigarette machine, the actual use of which had been recently banned, in which he dispensed his black and white photographs for $1.00.

At the point that the show was to close, Cynthia Giles, the owner of the cafe, asked Whittington if the machine could remain, as it had be come a hit. She introduced Whitting to other local artists and they formed Artists in Cellophane, which went on to establish the Art-o-mat project.

The Art-o-mat vending machines dispense small original art objects that are the approximate size and shape of cigarette packages, or can be packed in a box with those dimensions. The guidleines for artists interested in participating gives the details. The wonderfully refurbished and redecorated machines are often works in themselves.

The Art-o-mat project now has over 400 participating artists vending art from 82 active Art-o-mat machines in the US (and now internationally), usually in museum stores and shops in areas where an art-oriented clientele can be found, like whole foods markets and cafes. You can find the nearest Art-o-mat to you on this list. The original machine in Winston-Salem is still there.

Art-o-mat art objects allow you to collect original art for $5.00 a pop, not much more than an actual pack of the legally addicting little cancer-tubes, and art is not only much better for you than cigarettes, it doesn’t make your clothes smell like a smoldering garbage heap (well, at least most art).


3 thoughts on “Art-o-mat

  1. Becca Parson

    I read about this several years ago. I think it was in Art Calendar or some such mag. Anyway, I’m so glad you wrote about this because I had forgotten all about it and it really is one of the coolest, most innovative ideas I’ve heard about!

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