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Arty Girl: Art-O-Mat Comes to Chandler

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When my editor told me about the Art-O-Mat, all I said was, "I have no idea what to think of this."

And, I have to admit, I still don't know.

Tonight the Chandler Arts Commission will unveil a vending machine that dispenses original artworks.

Yes. You heard me right. A vending machine.

Creator Clark Whittington will be at the reception from 6-8 p.m. tonight at Vision Gallery, the machine's new home. He's taken old cigarette vending machines and re-vamped them to accept $5 tokens and then plop out whichever original artwork the patron chooses. Here's how his idea came about:

Whittington developed the Art-O-Mat concept in 1997 after noticing a friend's Pavlovian reaction to hearing cellophane snacks opened. Whenever the friend heard the tear of a package, he wanted a snack, too. So Whittington used a then-recently banned cigarette machine to create a vehicle for dispensing art packaged in cellophane. It was installed along with 12 of his paintings in a local café in Winston-Salem, N.C., and dispensed his black-and-white photographs for a $1 apiece.

The concept alone is intriguing. Here, we have the ultimate way of democratizing fine art. But are we taking too much away from the value of original pieces? Are we "slumming it" if we support this way of collecting art? Is that bad?

Personally, I don't think so. Just like Marcel DuChamp did with his readymades, work like this raises questions about traditional art practices. That, in itself, is a meritable artistic exercise.

The project has a charming website that shows off the slick, vintage machines. With 82 Art-O-Mat's in the country and over 200 participating artists, this crazy idea is definitely going somewhere.

Ultimately, I don't know where that somewhere is. But tonight, it will be in Chandler.

The free reception for the Art-O-Mat vending machine is from 6-8 p.m. at Vision Gallery, 80 S. San Marcos Place in Chandler, 480-917-6859.

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