This British Start-up Is Selling Art out of a Vending Machine

Work by artist Ellie Andrews
Work by artist Ellie Andrews | Courtesy of The Vending Machine Art Gallery

Tech & Entrepreneurship Editor

British start-up The Vending Machine Art Gallery is disrupting the art scene one signature piece at a time. Selling limited-edition prints from a pop-up vending machine for less than £30 a piece, the initiative is on a mission to democratize art distribution. We spoke to London-based co-founder Hannah S. to find out more.

Culture Trip: Where did the idea for the Vending Machine Art Gallery come from?

Hannah S.: The idea evolved from a conversation [co-founders] Tom Bird, Carl Stratton and I had about Berlin-based conceptual artist Aram Bartholl. He did a project where he inserted USB sticks loaded with art into walls on random New York streets. People could then go and download free art on to their devices.

We thought it was really cool that he was bringing the art to the people in an unexpected way, so started to think of ways we could do the same. Luckily a friend of ours—who owns a pub with a vending machine—agreed to let us try the concept out. Three weeks after our initial chat, we put on our first show!

By artist Laurène Boglio

CT: Why did you want to get art out of galleries and into public spaces?

HS: We want to democratize art and make it more accessible to people. We love galleries but are very aware that they can sometimes seem elitist and intimidating. By taking art out of that traditional setting, we hope to give people a “safe” space to view and buy art, making it less about what you know, and more about what you like and how it makes you feel.

By artist Iwan Prokhorov

CT: How do you find the artists you feature? Does Vending Machine Art Gallery only sell original prints?

HS: We feature artists who are generally emerging and not yet particularly well-known. We approach some of them on on Instagram if we like their work and feel like they would do well from doing a show. We also know that artists tend to hang out in collectives and quite often if we get one on board the rest will want to take part too.

We set a brief for every show we do so the artists can make an exclusive piece of work. They then send it to us and we print, stamp, number and package a limited run for the machine. We also sell limited quantities on our website.

Work by artist David Shackleton

CT: As a start-up, what have been the most pivotal moments along the way?

HS: The most crucial lesson we’ve learnt is just to go for it, as long as you are still enjoying it. It would have been so easy for us to talk ourselves out of doing our first show. We all have full time jobs, so it was a lot to take on. We always somehow found the time because the outcome always seemed worth it. We also learnt quite quickly what each other’s strengths were in the business and to spot when one of us needs that extra pep talk or a little bit more support.

By artist Stu Freeland

The Vending Machine Art Gallery is exploring permanent residencies in venues across the UK, and will be at Bestival Music Festival in Dorset, England September 7–10. Follow them on Instagram @TheVendingMachineArtGallery

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