Did you ever wonder what happened to all those old cigarette vending machines after they were outlawed? Neither did I. But it turns out someone thought, “Hey, that would be a cool way to sell art.”
Meet the Art-o-Mat.
It is exactly what it looks like: a cigarette vending machine repurposed to vend art, which comes (not surprisingly) in cigarette-pack-sized packages. I came across a mention of the Art-o-Mat online, and it turns out there’s a machine only a few miles from my house, inside the Baton Rouge Gallery. So, I took my kids on a field trip.
What is it about pushing buttons, turning knobs, and pulling levers that fascinates us humans? Why is it so much cooler to plunk a token through a slot, tug a silver rod, and stoop to retrieve an as-yet-unseen prize from a machine’s mysterious depths, than it would be just to browse through the gift shop and plop down five bucks for the same item? I don’t know – but, undeniably, it is. I plopped down ten bucks so that each of my two children could have a turn with the coins and levers. These are my prizes:
The quality of the items is surprisingly high. You could easily pay two or three times as much for similar items at a craft fair. I doubt that anyone – especially the artists – is getting rich on the Art-o-Mat, but it’s not a bad way for artists to get a little exposure. Art-o-Mat is nationwide, and they are absolutely looking for new work.
Will vending machines revolutionize the art world? I doubt it. But there is something poetic about repurposing a machine designed to sell carcinogens to sell a little beauty, instead.