Have you ever wondered what happened to all of those old cigarette vending machines, now that smoking isn’t cool? Well, several of them (more than 90, at last count) have been converted to Art-o-mat machines that dispense small works of art for just $5 each. The machines are in locations in 29 states across the U.S., plus one in Canada and one in Austria.
During a recent visit to the DiverseWorks gallery here in Houston, I purchased two very cool Art-o-mat artworks from the machine located there. One is a wire necklace, made by artist Mirtha Aertker, and the other is a mixed media photo collage by artist Giovanna Carrola. My friend Julie Howell was with me, and you can read her take on the Art-o-mat at her SkyJules blog.
To buy art from an Art-o-mat, you simply insert a $5 bill into the vending machine then pull the lever. Although you won’t know exactly what you are buying until it is in your hands, many of the slots are marked with the name of an artist and the type of art so you can choose a painting or drawing, wooden art, jewelry, glass art, etc. The surprise when you pull your art from the machine is part of the fun of the Art-o-mat experience.
All of the artworks must be the proper size to be vended by the former cigarette machines. Some are packaged in a box the size of a cigarette pack, while others are created on or attached to a wooden block the size of a cigarette pack.
Currently, Houston has just the one Art-o-mat art vending machine at DiverseWorks. There was a second, several years ago, but no one seems to know where it ended up. And if the rumors are true, there will be another Art-o-mat installed at the new Whole Foods store at West Dallas and Waugh when it opens in 2011.
Meanwhile, the only place in Houston to get your own $5 nicotine-free art is DiverseWorks. The machine is just inside the front door, but go ahead and walk through the galleries. There are ever-changing exhibits of many types of art, and the gallery often hosts music, dance and other performances.
If you are an artist who would like to see your work in an Art-o-mat, there is information on how to apply at the Art-o-mat site.