Old Cigarette Vending Machines Dispense Artwork

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Giddy attendees at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas report encountering an old, bright yellow cigarette vending machine. Only instead of smokes, the machine dispenses artwork in cellophane-wrapped cartons.

The converted cigarette machine is called an Art-o-mat and for a mere $5 you can get a pack of art. Wired.com blogger Roberto Baldwin snapped a photo of one yesterday and wrote, “I only have $3. Sure there’s a metaphor for 4K TVs in there somewhere.”

Art-o-mats have been around for a little while now, but they’re becoming more prevalent as a way to bring art to the masses in an entertaining way. Back in the late ’90s, North Carolina artist Clark Whittington noticed his friend had a Pavlovian response to crinkling cellophane.

“When the friend heard someone opening a snack, he had the uncontrollable urge to have one too,” Whittington wrote on the Art-o-mat site. So the artist took advantage of that response, converting a banned cigarette vending machine into an art dispenser, appropriately, for a show at a cafe in Winston-Salem. When the show was over, the cafe owner asked to keep the machine.

In the past several years, Art-o-mats have found homes well beyond North Carolina, from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. They’ve gone from a one-off to a novelty to a nationwide phenomenon. One even arrived here in Denver last year at the Access Gallery in the Santa Fe arts district.

Gallery owner Damon McLeese stocked it with professional artists’ work, as well as works created by teens with disabilities who participate in art programs. Inside the machine, packs contained a wide array such as earrings made from computer chips, beaded keychains and drawings of wolves, according to the Denver Post’s Colleen O’Connor.

I find it hard to argue with the idea of these banned machines finding new lives delivering art with $5 tokens. If everyone bought art instead of cigarette packs and snacks, we’d be a heck of a lot healthier. Possibly even smarter, too.

Photo: An Art-o-mat machine in Las Vegas. Credit: Miss Shari, via Flickr.

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