There’s not a lot you can get for a quarter these days – a gumball here, 45 minutes of parking there.
But the Wichita Art Museum has endeavored to stretch the value of your quarter to levels unseen since the Roarin’ Twenties.
As part of an exhibition that went up in August and runs through February, you can purchase a print from a different local artist every two weeks for just a quarter.
The prints are stashed securely in decades-old newspaper dispensers – courtesy of the Wellington Daily News, according to museum staff.
The exhibition, “386,552: Art for Wichita,” is an innovative venture by the museum – which has traditionally focused on showcasing work by artists “with books written about them,” said Erin Raux, whose work is currently displayed in the “art vending machine.”
“As a community regional museum it’s our responsibility to bring the world of art to Wichita, but we also have a real obligation to those artists who are our neighbors who live in Wichita,” said Patricia McDonnell, director of the Wichita Art Museum. “We continue to take that responsibility quite seriously and think of new and different ways to shed light on artists today, but artists also out of the past, and this show bridges that gap really quite nicely.”
How it works
The exhibition, which features Wichita artwork beyond the pieces in the vending machine, was the brainchild of Lisa Volpe, the museum’s curator until late last year.
Kelsy Gossett was the first artist whose work was featured in the machines, back in November.
Volpe approached Gossett about the project, and Gossett submitted a photograph she had taken for a series the year before.
Many times, art for sale at Final Friday events is out of the common person’s reach – with prices for most pieces in the hundreds of dollars.
The accessibility of the local-art-for-a-quarter project is beneficial for those artists who have works in the exhibition, she said. The museum keeps the profits from the vending machine, but the artists were paid for their works upfront, Gossett said.
“I think it’s a really clever idea to bring awareness to local artists and also to bring people to the museum on a regular basis,” she said. “I think it gets people just excited about local art and aware of what’s going on in their community, who’s making work here that they might not be familiar with.”
Raux, the local artist currently exhibiting in the vending machine – a recent Master of Fine Arts grad from the University of Oklahoma – said “the idea of vending machine art is brilliant.”
The concept for the exhibition begs reference to Walter Benjamin’s notable 1935 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
In that essay, Benjamin argues that every time a piece of art is reproduced, it loses a bit of its intrinsic value.
Raux disagrees with that assessment.
“The way I look at it, it’s turning my work into a commodity or a collectible, and making it accessible to people it wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to,” Raux said. “It brings people into the museum and gives people a sense of ownership, per se. … I think it’s a huge opportunity.”
McDonnell said the exhibition’s juxtaposition of both historic and contemporary Wichita art is intended to “make people feel good about artmaking in our city.”
“It’s this quirky, fun connection to younger artists, but also giving our members and our visitors an opportunity that, hey, for a buck, you can take home a piece of art by an emerging Wichita artist,” she said.
If people can’t afford that, she said, “then we’re really in trouble.”