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Vending machine that dispenses art unveiled in Chandler

Art Fortune | News 

By Tyler Lockman – The Arizona Republic

Forget candy bars and sodas. Now you can stop by the vending machine and buy an original work of art for less than the cost of lunch.

This week the Vision Gallery in Chandler unveils its newest installation, the Art-O-Mat, a vending machine that dispenses original art, and the machine's creator will be on hand.

Created in 1997 by Winston-Salem, N.C. artist Clark Whittington, the Art-O-Mat utilizes old cigarette vending machines to dispense tiny works of art in cellophane-wrapped boxes. More than 80 machines across the U.S., plus one in Canada and one in Austria, feature the works of about 400 artists from 11 countries.

"It looks like a typical vending machine," said Eric Faulhaber, visual arts coordinator for the gallery. "But when you look closer you see all the different kinds of art inside it."

Faulhaber said for $5, buyers get a token which they insert into the machine and select from a variety of works. Each machine features 20 artists, with five works each. From paintings andsculptures to jewelry and photos, the varied items come in a tiny box about 3-inches by 5-inches.

Whittington was inspired in the late '80s by a friend's Pavlovian reaction to crinkling cellophane snacks - whenever he heard the sound, he wanted a snack too. The original machine in a Winston-Salem café was stocked with Whittington's black and white photos for $1 each.

"At the time, a lot of my art was based on real life experiences," Whittington, 34, said. "I was doing some crazy art back then."

The machine was successful and the café owner introduced Whittington to a group of artists to help restock the machine. They formed Artists in Cellophane, a juried group that still takes applications to have art placed in the often brightly-colored machines.

Whittington said he hopes to meet local artists who want to become part of the project at the Vision Gallery, where he will give a short presentation about the Art-O-Mat. Faulhaber said the gallery has encouraged local artists to apply and thinks a few Chandler artists will be involved soon.

Faulhaber first encountered the machine in Sacramento, Calif. He bought an artwork, a miniature robot, and started thinking about how to bring an Art-O-Mat to Arizona.

"I'm really happy to have a machine in Arizona," Whittington said. "It's our first machine in a 'Four Corners' state, so it's a big deal for us."

Whittington is quick to admit that the Art-O-Mat's business model isn't very profitable for artists involved, but said his "garage operation" isn't about making a lot of money.

"I've never been interested in that," Whittington said, adding that a lot of artists get involved because he is an artist rather than a business man.

"I'd rather have a project where I treat the artist the way I'd want to be treated. Anyone would be crazy to be in this for the money."

The Art-O-Mat's primary goals are artist exposure and fundraising. Funds from each sale go to the Chandler Cultural Foundation, similar to arrangements at each venue where an Art-O-Mat sits.

Whittington still builds the machines mostly on his own from original cigarette machines, which are often donated by people tired of the machines taking up space in storage. He said he will likely cap the project at 100 machines.



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