Art-o-mat at Meow Wolf

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This is one of the postcards I bought in the Meow Wolf gift shop.

After a little more than two hours in Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, NM, The Man and I thought we had seen all there was to see. (Spoiler alert: We didn’t. The Man saw a photo of a ship on a magnet in the gift shop and realized we hadn’t laid eyes on the actual structure. We had no idea how to get to the ship at the time, so we decided we were ready to leave. We think we know how to find the ship now, which is one of the reasons we want to go back.)

Anyway, we were on our way to the Meow Wolf gift shop so I could pick up a couple of postcards (and two is all I bought since they cost $1 each), when I saw it: the Art-o-mat®.

The Art-o-mat® in the Meow Wolf lobby. Isn’t it lovely? I think the color scheme is fantastic! And that sugar skull…swoon!

I’d heard of Art-o-mat® machines, although the term for them in my brain was “art vending machine.” I’d maybe even seen one, somewhere, but I’d never bought art from one before. I figured if there was ever a time and place for buying art from a vending machine, that time and place was now, in the lobby of one of the greatest art spaces I had ever experienced.

What exactly is an Art-o-mat®, you may ask? According to the Art-o-mat® website,

Art-o-mat® machines are retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to vend art. There are over 100 active machines in various locations throughout the country.

The site’s About page says,

The inspiration for Art-o-mat® came to artist Clark Whittington while observing a friend who had a Pavlovian reaction to the crinkle of cellophane…

In June 1997, Clark was set to have a solo art show at a local cafe, Penny Universitie in Winston-Salem, N.C. He used a recently-banned cigarette machine to create the first Art-o-mat®…The machine sold Clark’s black & white photographs mounted on blocks for $1.00 each…

AIC [Artists in Cellophane] is the sponsoring organization of Art-o-mat®. The mission of AIC is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form. AIC believes that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable…

My fortune as given to me by Alva, a robotic soothsayer from Portals Bermuda.

Do you have a $5 bill, I asked The Man. I’d broken my fiver to buy a pair of Meow Wolf chromadepth glasses (a waste of $1, as far as The Man and I were concerned) and spent another buck to have my fortune told by Alva, a robotic soothsayer from Portals Bermuda stationed in a glass cube in the arcade. I was now $2 short of buying a small piece of art from the Art-o-mat®.

Alva the soothsayer from Portals Bermuda

The Man pulled out his wallet, rummaged through it, and produced a $5 bill. Yes! Now we could choose which knob to pull.

Oh! What a decision! We had twenty choices after all! Twenty. Choices.

The top row had the name of a specific artist above each knob. Of course, I didn’t recognize any of the names. There was even information about what kind of art would be dispensed above some of the knobs. Did I want a leather key ring? Did I want matchbox art? I was overcome by choices.

On the second row, each knob was labeled “Random Art.” Maybe I would be better off if I let the Universe decide what piece of art I needed. Of course, there were still ten “Random Art” choices. I managed to narrow my choices down to two.

I narrowed my random art choices down to these two.

Should I go with creating a rainbow by buying art? (Note: I knew that buying art doesn’t really create rainbows even before I read the disclaimer.) Should a take a chance on an unknown artist? Although I’m not much of a gambler, I decided to go with taking a chance.

The Man fed the money into the bill acceptor of the sort one uses to get change at a car wash or laundromat. Now was my moment to pull the knob.

The aforementioned Art-o-mat® website answers the question What do you get? [from the dispenser] this way:

The experience of pulling the knob alone is quite a thrill, but you also walk away with an original work of art. What an easy way to become an art collector.

Pulling the knob was a thrill. Those old machines were built to be sturdy, so I had to give it a strong tug. I was rewarded with a hearty thunk! when the art fell into the tray at the bottom of the dispenser. I reached in and grabbed something the approximate size and shape of a package of cigarettes, although this item was heavier than the packs of cigarettes I’ve held. I thought the art would come in an old cigarette box, but instead it was wrapped in paper to keep it from getting scratched. I peeled off the paper and found a small painting (or maybe the image was created with markers) on a block of wood.

This is the art I received when I took a chance.

I’m not sure what exactly is depicted here. Like all good art, it leaves the viewer with some questions. Is that the sun in the upper left? Is that water on the bottom? Is it a lake? An ocean? Why is it jagged? What’s in the space between the sun and the water? The middle space looks really hot. Is it hell? Phoenix in July? What does it all mean?

This is the artist’s signature on the side of the little art piece. I took a chance on you, Jack. Thanks for this beauty.

You can answer those questions for yourself. You can ask more questions if you like. As for me, I appreciate this piece of art and its randomness and mystery. Most of all, I enjoyed the experience of buying art from a vending machine.

I took the photos in this post.

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

2 Responses »

  1. That is why I always enjoy / love abstract art The “answers” to what it is or represents are almost diferent for each individual who looks at abstract art Enjoy it

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