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Continued: Buying art from a vending machine

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 1, 2014 - 2:17 PM

Warner’s south Minneapolis studio is filled with the tiny in-progress artworks along with nine vending machines that are in various states of disrepair.

All but one of the machines function without electricity, she said.

She has a laundry soap-dispensing machine — a Craigslist acquisition “from a guy who was liquidating a laundromat” — and a number of others that once proffered medicine and personal care products, she said.

She’s had to replace parts, take them apart, repaint them, “and repair all the little quirks and bumps and damages,” that happen over the years, Warner said.

Often, she likes to work with the existing graphics. For example, on a laundry soap machine, Warner kept intact a bubble design that wraps around the word “sudz.” “I like how charming and retro it is,” she said.

Warner also has drawn inspiration from the national Art-o-mat project by Winston-Salem, N.C., artist Clark Whittington. He salvages retired cigarette vending machines, which also peddle art, according to the project website.

Sourcing the machines has been an adventure in and of itself. “I’ve gotten pretty good at prowling Craigslist ads,” she said. Toni Warner, who lives in New Hope, has enjoyed seeing her daughter’s project come together. Warner, who also studied printmaking in college, has helped haul some of the vending machines around in her dragon-themed art car.

“I like what she’s doing,” Toni Warner said, adding, the project shows that art “doesn’t have to be huge and flashy and grand to be valuable.”

Attention to detail

Josh Bindewald, who leads Highpoint’s Jerome Emerging Artists residency program that Warner participated in last year, said he especially likes the bright-orange snack machine. “Her craftsmanship was remarkable, her attention to detail in getting these things back to good condition,” said Bindewald, the exhibitions and artists cooperative manager at Highpoint.

His personal favorite among the items in the machines is the “Modest Manual for Living.”

Several of the items were wrapped in brown craft paper and tied with string, so it was like getting a gift, he said.

Likewise, Warner’s studiomate, Andy Sturdevant, said her work jumped out to him right away. “I liked that it was so site-specific and could go anywhere, in any public space. I found that very appealing,” he said.

The machines “blend into a commercial background seamlessly. That’s what I love about it. It really rewards careful attention,” he said.

As for Warner herself, she is so “tidy and so meticulous. It’s amazing to watch her work,” he said. “It’s like watching the world’s tiniest one-person assembly line.”


Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at


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