Saturday, February 5, 2011

The World's Largest Gallery

One of the largest art galleries I know of spans four countries (the United States, Canada, Australia and Austria) and about thirty states and even the District of Columbia.  It is also the most affordable "gallery" I know of, at five dollars a pop for every piece of art, but the trick is you'll never know quite what you're getting until you've got it.

So what is this globe-spanning super-affordable gallery?  It's Art-o-mat.   Repurposed cigarette vending machines turned art vending machines, placed in galleries, museums (the Smithsonian Museum of American Art), hotels (the Chambers Art hotel), and even several in one casino (the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas).  There might even be one near you.

All these are the brain-child of one artist, Clark Whittington, a North Carolina native who, back in 1997 had a show about to open at a Winston-Salem cafe.  He put a bunch of his black-and-white photographs in the first remodeled machine and sold them for a dollar a piece.   The owner of cafe loved the machine so much she wanted it to stay and Clark set out to find other artists to help keep it filled.

Over a decade later, there are over four hundred artists and over ninety machines.  I am one of those artists.  Here are just a few of the couple of hundred pieces I have put in machines over the last few years.

Every few months, I illustrate, paint, or draw on fifty small wooden blocks the size of cigarette packs and ship them off to Winston-Salem, where Clark distributes them to machines all over the country.  Out of each five dollar sale, a bit goes to me, a bit to the machine owner to help cover the cost of hosting the machine and a dollar or so goes back to Clark to help him keep the process going, revamping machines to be hosted in locations as of yet undetermined.

If you truly enjoy creating art, Artomat is one of the most worthwhile endeavors you could be a part of.  There is something to be said for receiving that card every few months that tells me five of my blocks have gone to the Smithsonian or ten to LIFT in Detroit.  What is more satisfying, since artists are required to put contact info on each and every block, is the email I get now and again from someone who bought one of my pieces, telling me how much they loved it or where they put it in their home.  For a lot of people, pulling that lever on the Artomat machine and hearing that kerplunk, it's the first art purchase they ever make.

You don't have to be a traditional two-dimensional artist to be a part of Artomat, though.  There are painters and illustrators and printmakers, yes, but there are also sculptors, potters, jewelrymakers, fiber artists and more.  It can be challenging as well, to create fifty pieces of art (the minimum number to submit at one time) which are original and truly representative of your style, without getting bored, being too repetitive or just plain giving up.

Think you are up to the challenge and want to be a part of it?  Go here to find out the submission process.  And if you're just looking for an awesome piece of art, go right here to see if there is one by you.


  1. cool ... happy and proud to be an art-o-mat artist!

  2. Very well written! I am happy to be an Arto-artist, machine host & collector!

  3. That is so cool! I have not seen one of these before! I will keep my eye out! This is a really great idea! Do you think they can make one for small knitted items?! LOL

  4. You could be in the Artomat and have small knitted items. They would just go in a little cigarette box and have to be weighted so they'd drop properly. You would just have to read the guidelines for prototype submission here:

  5. Great information and thanks for the link on guidelines. Nice blog by the way.

  6. Hello again. I have added a link to this blog article on my blog , check it out I hope you approve.

  7. Found you on the UEF!

    Tiffany with Will Write 4 Food



  8. wow i might have to visit DC just to see one of these. I have never even heard of them before. And great that you're art is in them!