Pull a knob on this cigarette vending machine, and you could start a habit just as addictive as puffing Laramies or Lucky Strikes. You could start jonesing for art.
The Art-O-Mat, a refurbished smokes machine stocked with snack-sized works of original art instead of cigs, is coming to Chandler. The city’s arts commission will unveil it at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Vision Gallery, 80 S. San Marcos Place.
“It’s the first one in Arizona,” says Laurie Fagen, president of the commission. “It’s very exciting because it’s so fun and different. It’s a whole new way to experience art. You can walk away with a whimiscal, beautiful, interesting piece of art, and it doesn’t cost very much.”
Made from vintage cigarette automats dating back to the 1940s, the machines are the brainchild of North Carolina artist Clark Whittington, who developed the concept in 1997 after noticing how a friend automatically wanted a snack every time he heard someone open a cellophane wrapper. Whittington’s idea: Put a token in a vending machine, and receive a cellophane-wrapped piece of original art instead.
Now 82 Art-O-Mats sit in museums, coffee houses, arts centers, universities, comic stores and even two Whole Foods supermarkets in the United States, Canada and Austria. Their mini masterpieces cost $5 a pop.
Chandler’s machine holds 100 pieces of art. The works measure no more than 2 inches by 3 inches by 7/8 inches and can include everything from oil paintings and ink drawings to mixed-media figurines and jeweled pendants. They’re made by more than 400 artists from around the world whose work must meet certain “Artists In Cellophane” standards. That’s the artists collective formed to supply the machines with an ever-changing inventory.
Fagen says each piece is a bit of a surprise, since you can’t see what the art looks like through the vending windows.
“I bought one yesterday called something like 'copper web,’” she says, “and it turned out to be a piece of recycled copper decorated with beads and found objects. I loved it. One of the other gals got one that was a robot made of circuits and other electronic pieces. It was only an inch and a half tall, but it was the coolest thing. It’s all unusual artwork, not too much of the classics here. They don’t want them to be cookie-cutter, mass-produced art.”
The Chandler Art-O-Mat is a permanent installation. Its inventory of artwork will change regularly, and Fagen is hoping local artists’ work will soon be added to it or Art-O-Mats in other locations.
“A lot of peple right now aren’t able to spend money on the arts. It’s got a lower priority than a lot of other things in life. But for the price, you can hardly lose. You get something original and fun and maybe even find an artist whose work you really want to follow,” says Fagen.
Whittington will attend Wednesday’s reception, which is free and open to the public. The event coincides with Art Walk, when art vendors set up shop on the sidewalks amid downtown Chandler’s galleries, shops and eateries.
Money from each Art-O-Mat sale is split between the artist and the Chandler Cultural Foundation.