VISUAL ARTS | Works of art for only $5 from Twin Cities vending machines

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The Altered Esthetics art vending machine drew a crowd of purchasers and spectators right inside the door of the Northern Warehouse lobby during the St. Paul Art Crawl, October 9-11. The vintage cigarette machine was re-purposed by Tony Tudisco to vend original works by Twin Cities artists for only five dollars. Art enthusiasts selected from painted or mixed-media block canvases, jewelry, buttons, sculpture, silk and more.

Tudisco said he partnered with the St. Paul Art Collective to fill the machine with a mix of St. Paul and Minneapolis artists in order to “bridge the gap” between the two art communities. The small pieces provide people with a taste of an artist’s work, Tudisco added, and sometimes purchasers will head to the studio for more. The vending machine appeals to children, too, who can take something away from an otherwise grown-up event.

This year the art vending machine was featured on the art crawl’s web site. “I’m just going to look out for it,” Amber Waldo said, because she was already planning to attend the event. Several other people agreed that they knew about the machine ahead of time and were making it part of their visit.

“I wanted the machine to pick for me,” Alyssa Puffer-Kunau said, while trying to pull two knobs at once. Tudisco tries to stock the machine with an appealing variety of items but in the end, the purchaser has to make a choice. A small display of some possible examples was on top of the machine and each pull-out knob corresponded to a description card, usually provided by the artist.

“The only real criteria is dimensions,” Tudisco explained. Any kind of two-dimensional art on a block or three-dimensional piece that will fit in a box the size of a cigarette pack can fit and go through the vending machine.

Sometimes artists ask for their art to be included. In the case of the St. Paul Art Crawl, an open call for the vending machine was put out in advance. Sometimes Tudisco finds an artist he thinks would work for the medium and asks if they would be interested.

 “It’s fun knowing someone has a little piece of your work out there,” said D.C. Ice. She did a dozen pieces of her “sinister but sweet” drawings to support the arts and the art community when approached by Tudisco. The vending machine sold out of her items Friday, the opening night of the art crawl.

The artists can choose whether they want to split the proceeds with Altered Esthetics, a nonprofit arts organization, or donate their work to the group, which then offers to provide appropriately sized wood blocks to work on.

There are currently three Altered Esthetics art vending machines around the Twin Cities. One is permanently at their gallery, 1224 Quincy St. NE, and includes several of their featured artists. A second is permanently at Big Brain Comics, 1027 Washington Ave. S., and vends miniature comic books. The third is the traveling machine, which was featured at the St. Paul Art Crawl and Minneapolis MOSAIC. Tudisco said he recently acquired another vintage machine and is in the process of outfitting it to be his fourth.

The only real drawback to the art vending machine was encountered by Kristin Thompson, Altered Esthetics exhibitions director. She waited inside the door of the Northern Warehouse lobby, providing the five dollars in quarters to excited people who wanted to give it a whirl and remained upbeat as it repeatedly jammed or rejected quarters for one reason or another.

It happened on my turn too, but I patiently re-fed quarters into the beast, yanked on the pearl handle and received my numbered piece by St. Paul’s Jeffery F. Morrison. After showing it off to all my friends, I went home and put it in a place of honor. It’s honestly the only original art I own.