Years back, cigarette vending machines were a fixture in the corridors of certain bars and restaurants, a midcentury convenience allowing smokers to re-up with onsite ease. A few coins in the slot and a jerk of the knob released the machine’s treasure with an audible plunk.
Such machines are rare nowadays, but the magical plunk of any vending device still holds charm, believes the Art-o-Mat movement, which converts decommissioned cigarette machines into purveyors of tiny, original art.
There are nearly 180 refurbished Art-o-Mats across the country, including one at the Baton Rouge Gallery. For a mere fiver, you can buy a token, drop it in and pull a knob. Out plops a diminutive piece of art, a small box holding handmade jewelry, or a small craft.
“It’s just really fun,” says Baton Rouge Gallery board member Debbie Daniel, who has a personal collection of about 100 Art-o-Mat pieces—all from Baton Rouge Gallery’s machine. Many line the windowsills of her home. “You’re getting an original piece of art from artists from all over the United States. I just think it’s so cool.”
Art-o-Mat machines are the brainchild of North Carolina artist Clark Whittington, who created the first one for a solo art show at a local Winston-Salem café in 1997. Whittington saw the project as a clever way to fuse art and commerce, filling it with his photographic work mounted on small rectangular blocks. Spectators could buy them for a dollar.
For the full story, check out the piece from our sister magazine, 225.