A North Carolina artist is breathing new life into retired cigarette machines with Art-o-mat® and the non-profit group, Artists in Cellophane. With a five dollar token and the pull of a lever, visitors to Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University may purchase an original work of art and discover a new artist. The creator, Clark Whittington, will share his effort to combine the worlds of art and commerce when he presents a public lecture at the museum on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm. Music by Cullars Improvisational Rotation and tapas with cocktail service in the Museum Café will follow from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Advance registration for the lecture is encouraged.
There are 120 active Art-o-mat® machines nationwide converted to vend art, and Auburn’s art museum will be the first location in Alabama. “The very first converted machine I made almost 20 years ago was intended to be a one-time art piece,” said Clark Whittington. On view in a coffee shop, the machine was filled with Whittington’s black and white photographs mounted on blocks. He said he came up with the idea for the art installation piece when he noticed his response to the sound of crackling cellophane as his friend opened a vending machine snack: he immediately wanted a snack, too. In 1997, Artists in Cellophane was born, and other artists began submitting their work. Whittington said now their Las Vegas, Nevada locations dispense nearly 1,500 pieces a month and 300 artists are involved in the project.
“The small scale of the artwork allows people to wrap their mind around something representational or conceptual,” he said. “The machine is approachable and the experience interactive. Something this small and at this price point is easy to manage.” Whittington said that people are often surprised about the quality of work. “You would think that at this point, we’ve seen it all, but artists continue to show us innovative things.” Sometimes he finds old cigarette machines on sites like Craigslist, or sometimes people with machines find him. Whittington welcomes artists who want to be involved in the project to review the submission guidelines .
Museum director Marilyn Laufer first saw an Art-o-Mat® machine on a visit to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I visited the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, and there it was,” she said. “Then I saw one on my next stop at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. It was such a cool way to talk about art as fundamental and something a vending machine would offer—that it didn’t have to be about elitism and big expense. It could be simple and direct in a compact way.” Laufer said that the Art-o-Mat® will be installed outside of the Museum Gift Shop and ready for people to enjoy in April. The sales revenue goes towards the Artist in Cellophane and Art-o-Mat® project, the artists, and the hosting venue.
Charitable, tax-deductible gifts in support of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art or other programs at Auburn are made through the Auburn University Foundation, which receives such gifts on the university’s behalf. Outreach programs and artist visits like these are one of the resources offered to campus and community.