Insert $5, become art collector
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Northville artist Took Gallagher sells her Animal People collages in local Art-o-mats, redesigned cigarette vending machines that dispense pack-sized pieces of art.
Photo: Photo couresty of Took Gallagher
Took Gallagher loves seeing Art-o-mats turn men, women and children into aut-o-mat-ic art collectors.
It's easy. Insert $5, pull the lever on the redesigned cigarette vending machine and ker-plunk — you get a tiny piece of original art, perhaps an animal person collage on a wooden block, a pewter cracker or a miniature cast bronze boot.
“It's very addictive,” said Gallagher, 56, a participating Northville artist, an “arto” collector, and host of the only two metro-Detroit machines at Detroit Comics in Ferndale, and Solid Grounds Coffee House in Northville. Addictive? Maybe — but much healthier than a pack of smokes.
In 1997, Clark Whittington, 43, a Winston-Salem, N.C., painter and conceptual artist, created the first Art-o-mat as a cool way to showcase his artwork just after cigarette vending machines were banned in Tobacco Town. Then he decided to get more artists involved.
Today more than 85 Art-o-mats have popped up in Whole Foods, coffee shops and art museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Nearly 350 artists representing 10 countries participate.
In Michigan, five artists contribute work and three Art-o-mat machines dispense tiny cigarette pack-sized pieces of art.
Detroit Comics owner Brian Kelly said, “Certain people only come in here for the Art-o-mat. They ask for change so they can use it.”
In addition to being a host for five years, Gallagher is one of the most active Art-o-mat artists, with 500 pieces to her credit. She has created Animal People collages, colored pencil drawings, and knit finger puppets. Her next series of 50 will be eraser carvings that double as ink stamps.
She also is one of many “arto” collectors who include enthusiasts of all ages. Whittington believes the limited edition artworks will appreciate in value. At a 10-year anniversary show in Winston-Salem, N.C., he priced rare pieces as high as $300 but none sold.
The best selling Art-o-mat artists are Dewitt Young, a Milan, Ill., folk artist who creates tiny robots from electrical components, and Herbert Hoover, a New York artist who makes pewter pretzels, sandwich cookies, and crackers, and keeps a Cracker Tracker blog to trace where his pieces go.
No one's going to get rich this way. Only about 10 artists make more than $600 a year. Half the $5 price of a piece of art goes to the artist, $1.50 goes to the host, and creator Whittington gets the rest. He refurbishes the cigarette machines and helps hosts get started.
Gallagher and Kalamazoo host Bonnie Pfingst started an Art-o-mat: Michigan Facebook fan page. It has 238 fans. Gallagher answers questions about Art-o-mat at Solid Grounds during Northville's monthly First Fridays, evening art walks promoted by the Northville Downtown Development Authority. In the spring, she'll hold information sessions at Solid Grounds and Detroit Comics for artists.
“I put a warning on mine: ‘Art can be addictive,' ” said Vagner Whitehead, a Ferndale new media artist and Oakland University art associate professor.