If you've been to 78th Street Studios lately, you may have seen Rich Cihlar's repurposed cigarette machine outside his gallery, E11even2, which he co-founded with fellow local artists Christina Sadowski and Billy Nainiger. Instead of packs of cigarettes, the machine dispenses original artwork and prints by Cihlar, the size of a cigarette box. For a special exhibition opening this weekend at the Sandusky Cultural Center, Cihlar has built a second Cleveland Artifact Machine (CAM) and invited some of his friends and peers to join in on the fun.
"Guests are first pulled in by the light-up Monkey Marquee sign, while mesmerized by the flashing LED lights," explains Cihlar. "Then one must select one of 22 slots, each represented by an artist. The guest gets to pull the handle and thrust it back in, like slot machine. The CAM lets out a moderately loud 'ka-chunk,' and out falls a beautifully wrapped gift. You open this small package and it reveals an original work of art and it feels special. The crowd cheers for you, and everyone wants to see what you got, and the fun becomes contagious. And that is what the show is about: art being fun, and that art is for everyone."
The CAM is a restored National cigarette machine from the 1960s. Twenty-two local artists each created 20 pieces of original artwork for the machine. Each work will sell for $10 until the machine is empty, which probably won't take long.
"The artist lineup for the show is exceptional," promises Cihlar. "Artists put a lot of work and time into these pieces. They hand cut boxes and created 20 original works to fit in the machine. I'll say the works presented are well worth over $10 — some valued 10 times that amount — but that's not the point of the exhibition. This show is a way to start a great collection even if our guests have a budget. The machine is meant to be interactive and create an experience for all of those around it."
Participating artists include Ken Arthur, Marsha Gray Carrington, Rich Cihlar, Justin Delli Bovi, Eileen Dorsey, Matthew Gallagher, Mark Hagstrom, Josh Haplea, Jeff Hulligan, Nick Humez, Nina Vivian Huryn, George Kocar, Matt Kokoski, Patricia Krebs, Charles T. Mayer, Billy Nainiger, James Ward Peake and Anastasia Linger, Christina M. Sadowski, Lisa Schonberg, Andrew Shannon, Denise E. Stewart and Mark Yasenchack.
In addition to the machine, the gallery walls feature larger original works of art by each of the participating artists. Works in the CAM range from paintings, drawings and photography to prints and mixed media pieces. Guests will also receive a commemorative CAM coin for their participation.
"One more fun element Charles (Mayer, director of the Sandusky Cultural Center) and I came up with was the commemorative coin," Cihlar says. "We had a custom die cut, and produced an exclusive CAM coin. Each guest who purchases a pull from the CAM will get a brass coin featuring a monkey on it with the text 'Cleveland Artifact Machine,' in honor of the machine and the Year of the Monkey. The coin is roughly the size of a quarter. It's just something else to make the event great."
The Cleveland Artifact Machine will be the final art exhibition of the 2015-2016 season at the Sandusky Cultural Center. The next season will begin in the fall.
"We have had a particularly strong season this year at Sandusky Cultural Center, but most of our themed shows have been rather serious," says director Mayer. "This one promises the fun that may have been previously absent. While the focus for this exhibit has been on the Machine and the special works created for it, I should also mention that each of the 22 participating artists has been invited to exhibit a small group of their more usual works at regular prices so that guests may be able have a reference for their purchases from the Machine. All credit for the project must go to Rich Cihlar; he has done all of the heavy lifting. I have just been the coordinator."
Mayer and Cihlar have worked together on several previous projects at the Sandusky Cultural Center. Their friendship and working relationship developed during an earlier exhibition at SCC. Mayer and his thoughtful programming inspired Cihlar's 365 Days of Pez project.
"I've known Charles (Mayer) for about four or five years now, and I met him through the Sandusky Cultural Center and mutual friends," Cihlar says. "He was the driving force behind my 365 Days of Pez project and the rest of our friendship is history. Charles is such a support system, not only to my work but to all of the artists who get involved with the Sandusky Cultural Center. We have become good friends, we shared creative ideas for exhibitions, we have introduced each other to new artists and have really worked on some great ideas together like this one featuring the CAM. Together I would say we have strengthened the bond between Sandusky and Cleveland by introducing new artists to each of those areas. It's a beautiful thing."
Be the first to use the machine during the opening reception this Sunday, April 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. The machine and exhibition remain on view through May 15.
Cleveland Artifact MachineSandusky Cultural Center 2130 Hayes Ave., Sandusky, 419-625-1188, sanduskyculturalcenter.org