Cigarette machines now dispense mini-art objects - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Cigarette machines now dispense mini-art objects

August 6th, 2019 development
Cigarette machines now dispense mini-art objects

By Kayla Rutledge



Longtime cigarette vending machines are coming out of retirement across the globe to give people a healthier alternative to buying expensive art. 

In lieu of a pack of cigarettes, the machines — which locally can be found in Chandler — carry identically-sized wood blocks or boxes of art that have been commissioned from around the world. 

For $5, aspiring art collectors can have a one-of-a-kind commissioned piece to call their own. 

Though not all of the art is locally sourced, Peter Bugg, Chandler’s visual arts coordinator, called the concept a great match for the city’s art scene.

“I think it’s a good fit for our area, and we want to support artists wherever we can and this is how we can do that,” said Bugg,

Debuted in Chandler in 2009, the machines at Vision Gallery and Chandler Center for the Arts have remained a huge hit over the years for art lovers of all ages, he said.

“A lot of adults recognize them from their childhood. I’m old enough that I saw them in bowling allies and other places, but people older than me recognize them quicker and say, ‘wow,’ and explain to their kids or grandkids what they’re about,” said  Bugg.

Bugg said he has also noticed younger generations can relate to the “retro, hipster vibe,” and while many don’t smoke, they still recognize the machines. 

While the mechanisms reel people in, it’s the art that makes them come back for more. 

Under each knob that delivers the art is a brief description of the artist, written by the artist themselves. 

“Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re getting to fill the machine with, so people definitely never know what they’re going to get,” said Bugg.

From prints, origami pieces and jewelry Bugg said he’s seen it all, but customers are never disappointed with what they get.

“I think that little bit of mystery keeps it fun, and people tend to actually really love that aspect of it,” said Bugg.

Another nostalgic characteristic of the Art-O-Mat at Vision Galley is that it takes retro-styled tokens. The machines at Chandler Center for the arts accept only cash.

Though in the Chandler area for quite some time, the history of the Art-O-Mat reaches as far back as 1997.

The inspiration to utilize the machines as art dispensers hit artist Clark Whittington while his friend had a Pavlovian reaction to the sound of crinkling cellophane, and wanted to spread that same desire about art. 

In the late ’90s, Whittington had a solo art show in a cafe in Winston-Salem North Carolina. Cigarette vending machines had recently been banned, so the artist repurposed the perfectly good machinery to dispense miniature black and white photographs that had been mounted on wood blocks for $1. 

The show was set to be dismantled the next month, but the owner of the cafe, Cynthia Giles, took kindly to the idea and requested the machine stayed permanently. 

Knowing other artists would need to be taken on board if the vending machine was to continue distributing art, local artists created the group Artists in Cellophane.

Today, AIC is the sponsoring organization behind Art-O-Mat with the mission of making art accessible to everyone. With the organization’s help, hundreds of Art-O-Mats have been established around the world. 

“This is small, affordable, and you don’t have to make the commitment of hanging it on your wall that a big piece would need. Based on what I’ve seen, [Art-O-Mats] make being an art collector attainable on a budget with limited space, and really that’s the point,” said Bugg.

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