Note the confused look on my face
From far away it appeared to be a jukebox, but upon closer inspection, I still had no idea what it was. I also thought it might have been one of those temporary tattoo vending machines, but that didn't seem to make sense either because there is no good reason as to why one of those would be in a library.
Then I saw it. A tiny handout placed on top of the machine.
"Art-o-mat machines are retired cigarette vending
machines that have been converted to vend art.
There are over 100 active machines
in various locations throughout the country."
And then it all made sense. Kind of.
What I found was a website called Artomat.org that explained the history and mystery of the Art-O-Mat machines. Basically, there was a dude named Clark Whittington who decided it would be a good idea to recycle an old cigarette vending machine and rig it to dispense his paintings for $1 in a cafe/ gallery setting in 1997. The owner of the cafe loved this idea so much that eventually the idea grew and the project developed with the help of a group called Artists in Celophane (AIC). Their current mission is to "encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form."
Now look at how many Art-O-Mats there are!
Do you see Sheboygan? [source: artomat.org]
The cool thing about Art-O-Mat is that it's an ongoing project and any artist can participate. There are some strict size guidelines that artists have to adhere to in order fit their project into the tiny slots in the machine (think: cigarette carton-sized art), and some specific materials that they have to buy, but after that the sky's the limit. This project allows artists to promote their work outside of the state or even country that they are living in without having to travel. It also allows the public to become collectors of fine art for a cheap price. Most pieces of art are sold for $5 with the artist receiving $2.50 per sale.
This project reminds me of an artist that I wrote about on this blog a long time ago named Christine Hill whose work also blends the ideas of art and commerce. Hill's work, however, was made solely for the gallery setting, only to be seen by people in a gallery setting. Art-O-Mat is more accessible because these machines are far removed from the gallery and therefore many types of unsuspecting folks like myself can stumble across them. [Thought: Rename this blog to "Accidentally Finding Art at the Mead Public Library"]. In fact, most Art-O-Mats are found in grocery stores. The Sheboygan Art-O-Mat was the third in Wisconsin, and its installation was partially funded by the Kohler Company. Art-O-Mat is also much more supportive of the work of many different kinds of artists as opposed to the work of the One and Only, the Artist, the Genius, the Sole Creator.
I'm into it. I would encourage you to check out the website, find a machine, and buy some art. I would have, but I'm an intern, and I'm broke.