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  • Writer's pictureSteven Hansen

Caution: Buying Art May Be Addictive

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

For less than the price of a pack of cig’s, you can own an original painting by a noted artist. Or a piece of handmade jewelry, a woodblock print, a sculpture, or even a marionette – all about the size of the aforementioned pack of smokes. That’s because these one-of-a-kind works of art are sold out of former cigarette vending machines.

In a swords-into-plowshares inspiration, North Carolina conceptual artist Clark Whittington began converting those retro-cool cigarette vending machines – once ubiquitous features in bars and bus stations – into self-serve artwork dispensers in 1997.

They’re called Art-o-mat machines and now there are over 200 of them located in coffee shops, museums, galleries, hotels, libraries, and supermarkets across the U.S., Australia, and Austria.

“They contradict the clichés about art,” says Whittington. “You get to own the art, it’s made by a living artist and it’s convenient.” And fun! Insert a few bucks, select an artist, pull the knob and out pops a cello-wrapped piece of original art. You could say that Art-o-mat machines make collecting art positively habit-forming.

About 400 artists sell their works through the Art-o-mat vending machines. Prices range between $5-7 each for the miniature masterpieces and each artist includes a bio, social media links and contact information. The Art-o-mat project is coordinated by Whittington’s Artists in Cellophane organization.

A similar project in Germany called Kunstautomaten has installed 250 converted cigarette-into-art vending machines in public spaces around Europe. The project’s purpose, according to founder Lars Kaiser, is to create “…a direct art communication between artist and art buyer without detours via galleries, museums, exhibitions or 3rd persons.”

Video bonus:

Artist and founder Clark Whittington talks about the origin of the Art-o-mat project.

Video bonus:

The Art-o-mat at Anythink Library in Thornton, Colorado

Photos (from top): Art-o-mat installed at Ballad Brewing in Danville, Virginia; painting by Don Schooler, sculpture by Gloria Haley, and fabric monster by Anne Thalheimer, all sold in Art-O-Mat machines, ©Artists In Cellophane.

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