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Vending Avant-garde.

Adam L. Brinklow | April 5, 2013 | Story Galleries and Performance

When the American Conservatory Theater unveils a brand new Art-o-mat at its Costume Shop performance space in San Francisco on Monday, creator Clark Whittington will be there with a pitch for the community: to fill the new installation with work from Bay Area artists.

Whittington devised Art-o-mats—vintage cigarette machines modified to dispense paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other pieces of original artwork (for $5 a pop)—back in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When the machine was empty of his own photos, he filled it with other people's work. The idea caught on. Fifteen years later there are Art-o-mats on three continents, selling everything from black and white photos and handmade sculptures to etchings and jewelry. Current favorites include graphic artist DeWitt Young's “Capacitor People”: tiny robot figures made from discarded electronics.

“People go into art galleries where the big price tag is right in your face, and they think obviously they don't belong there unless they have a big wallet,” Whittington says. Art-o-mat “is open to anyone.”

Which makes it a very San Francisco–friendly concept (the city already has two of the vending machines, at the Exploratorium and the RayKo Photo Center on Third Street). Yet despite the international exposure for artists who contribute work, very few Art-o-mat contributors are from the Bay Area. “We would really love to see it filled with Bay Area artists,” says A.C.T.'s executive director Ellen Richard. “I want our Costume Shop to be a place where all artists feel represented and welcomed.”

If you vend it, will they come? Richard and Whittington hope local artists will stop in Monday and become intrigued enough to want to contribute. To celebrate the official unveiling of the new Art-o-mat, join Whittington at the Costume Shop (1117 Market Street, at 7th) on April 8, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. To become an Art-o-Mat artist, go to

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