There is something about vending machines that has always captured my attention. Its not the contents, so much as it is the means by which they are delivered, via an automated box, whose mechanical nature seems almost retro in an age of digital devices. Digital devices are silent unless programmed to emit sound, but a vending machine naturally generates its clicks and clatters as its gears turn. There is also the element of surprise that vending machines create. You’re never quite sure if the button G7 is really going to deliver you that bag of chips you’re greedily eyeballing. There is a watchful anticipation that comes when you push the button or pull the lever and wait for your prize to fall into the tray.
It is this experience of interactive pleasure that artist Clark Whittington wanted to capture when he decided to put small works of art inside of an cigarette vending machine in 1997. And so the Art-o-mat was born. Initially, Whittington sold small photographs of his own work, but he quickly expanded the concept and invited other artists to make small art objects that could be sealed in plastic and loaded into his machine. Here was a way to deliver bite sized pieces of art at a price anyone could afford.
Today there are 82 Art-o-mats, made from repurposed cigarette vending machines, installed all over the country in coffee shops, college lounges, and even grocery stores. Find a work of cellophane wrapped art at a location in near you.