Proprietor: Clark Whittington
Active: 1997 to Present
Location: North Carolina (home base) Art*o*Mat® vending machines are in more than 80 locations worldwide (view locations)
Currently Accepting Submissions: Yes (view guidelines)
In the 1960s, smashing pianos became a trendy art spectacle. While it was a shocking sight, in actuality those pianos were already dead. Once the focal point of home entertainment, pianos gave way to hi fi systems that offered greater variety with minimum effort. Meanwhile, the development of central heating meant that the wood in those pianos would warp to the point where the piano could no longer be tuned if they weren’t constantly maintained. Thus the home piano was at the end of its functional life in all but a few niches. Like all technology that has lost its intended purpose, it either heads to the landfill, or finds new life at the hands of artists.
Cigarette vending machines faced a similar fate in the 1990s. Historically, tobacco is the most important product in the development of the vending machine. Coin-operated vending machines were used to sell tobacco products as far back as the 1600s. The first modern vending machine was developed in 1926 by William H. Rowe to sell cigarettes. It was the success of selling cigarettes that led to nearly all other vending machine uses today. However, in the 1990s, prohibitions on sales of cigarettes to minors meant that it was now illegal to sell cigarettes from cigarette machines. Like the piano, the cigarette machine had lost its purpose. Fortunately, Clark Whittington recognized the creative potential of these abandoned machines.
In 1997, Clark created the first Art*o*Mat ® in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He used it for a solo show, selling 12 of his black and white photographs.
The machine was so successful that Clark never stopped. Since then, Art*o*Mat ® has gone on to include many other artists and has become the longest running and most successful art vending machine in the US, with installations in more than 100 locations around the world, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Currently, between 300 and 400 artists’ work is presented in the vending machines at any given time.
Artists in Cellophane, the sponsoring organization of Art*o*Mat® has this to say:
Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art*o*mat® is based on the concept of taking art and “repackaging” it to make it part of our daily lives. The mission of A.I.C. is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form. A.I.C believes that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable. What better way to do this, than with a heavy cold steel machine?
Art*o*Mat ® rehabilitates cigarette vending machines, and the machines are works of art unto themselves. They completely redecorate and refurbish the old machines, making them fresh and new while still honoring the historical context of the period the machine was created in. Have a look!