Studio Proof: Columbus has an Art-O-Matic!

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

With “Divergent Path” opening Thursday at the Concourse Gallery in Upper Arlington, I thought I’d give readers a sneak peak at the work from a trio of artists (Sue King, Frauke Palmer and Jonathan Johnson). But I was met with such a pleasant surprise at the gallery that I feel compelled to cover it.

While “Divergent Path” contains a very interesting collection of work — quilt portraits (by King), abstract quilt landscapes (by Palmer) and Johnson’s ethereal scans of the natural world — I was happy I finally got to see an Art-O-Matic in person at the gallery, which is the only machine in Ohio.

Art-O-Matic is a project by Clark Whittington that started in 1997 when a decommissioned cigarette machine was turned into a vending machine for original art. Whittington’s first Art-0-Matic creation was part of his solo art show, and sold black-and-white photographs mounted on blocks for $1.

The idea of an original art vending machine is such an awesome one that it quickly exploded with machines now in galleries, stores and museums throughout the country, and has been featured in numerous publications (e.g., Playboy, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest) and television outlets). I had heard a lot about these Art-O-Matics but had never seen one in person.

When I came across the one at the Concourse Gallery, I was so excited I literally said out loud, “no shit!” — much to the surprise of a person who works in the building. Fortunately all the hype I’d heard about Art-O-Matic was fulfilled. 

By purchasing a $5 token from the cultural arts office, you can get a piece of small original art from a cigarette machine. That’s utterly amazing, both for the price point — you can’t even get a pack of cigarettes from a machine for five bucks anymore — and the sheer ingenuity.

There are 12 different options to choose from in the Columbus Art-O-Matic, and I recommend getting all of them. I know I will — even if I don’t like the art that comes out, I’d pay $5 just for the experience.

Photo by Jesse Tigges