2014.04.09 Joy in Miami: Ryland...and the Art-O-Mat

What a miserable day Monday was to return to Michigan from warm and sunny Miami. Cold, wet, windy, dark and really made me sympathetic to all the snowbirds who return this time of year only to find such un-springlike conditions.

We had such a lovely time in bright, sunny Miami: perfect weather, wonderfully accommodating son and daughter-in-law, and most importantly: amazing 21-month-year-old Ryland. Grandson Ryland is such a joy...even though he had pretty much no use for me as long as David was around. Still, he is so lovable and so smart and it’s so wonderful to see his sense of humor in full flourish and his curiosity and wheels working—it’s like being carried back in time to when Ben was his age.

It’s such an odd—and amazing—thing to see your child re-created in your grandchild. I see so much of Ben in Ryland. I could have merely stared at Ryland all week, but there were many restaurants to visit—this was a real gastronomical tour of Miami. We did visit a couple cultural sites, including one Ben had suggested—the new Pérez Art Museum Miami. 

I’m always up to visit art museums. And this one, from the parking garage with its lushly landscaped interior and mostly pea stone surface to the galleries of incredibly unique art—was just one delightful surprise after another.

Unique hanging gardens drop from great heights above a gigantic plaza that wraps around the building. Adirondack chairs invite sunning or just mindless staring out at Key Biscayne, watching the boats go by. Compelling sculptures of the Chinese zodiac (“Circle of Animals” by Ai Weiwei) line the outer edge of one end of the expansive plaza.

By the time we finally stepped inside the building, we were all hungry—good thing we walked in the door next to Verde, the museum’s excellent restaurant with the most delicious Margherita pizza. And we were also facing a very cool bathroom with individual floor-to-ceiling black boxed stalls and very cool fixtures.

But even better, just to the left of the door was the best discovery yet, an Art-O-Mat machine at the edge of the art museum store. I had read about Art-O-Mat machines long ago and loved the idea, so I was beside myself with joy. Art-O-Mat machines used to be cigarette vending machines. Now when you pull the knob, instead of a pack of cigarettes, you get some kind of art that is about the same size, or that is enclosed in a little box about the size as a pack of cigarettes.

While the others waited for a table, I browsed the store, and then unable to contain myself, bought four Art-O-Mat tokens for each of the adults. But it was really only Ryland who matched my interest in the machine. We spent a fair amount of time there, him pulling on the knobs and me trying to decide which of the 22 art choices to select. 

The others reacted about the same to the Art-O-Mat as they did to my enthusiastic urging of them to read Biz Stone’s memoir “Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind.” Stone was the co-founder of Twitter and his story is the rags-to-riches tale of a really decent person. Here’s a couple of endorsements his book received:

"Most tales of startup success revolve around a lone genius out-maneuvering the competition. But the story Biz Stone tells is a riveting-and often hilarious-break from that tradition: a story of collaboration, sharing, and the power of networks." —Steven Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of “Where Good Ideas Come From”

"In Things a Little Bird Told Me, Biz gives away all his secrets to success. I advised him against it. If you're not inspired and informed by this book, then you haven't read it." —Stephen Colbert

I think I read them the Colbert quote, but still they weren’t grabbing for the book. And when it came to the Art-O-Mat it was pretty much the same story. Ben had no desire to participate and David picked one to placate me; Sarah, though, good-heartedly made a selection.

I gave Ryland Ben’s token and let him make the first choice. “Paintings of Trees” by Kelli Busch was within his reach and he likes trees, so I guided him to that selection. I picked an ink drawing and watercolor collection called “So Doggone Happy” simply because I was so doggone happy to find an Art-O-Mat.

Holy moly, it was addicting! I didn’t realize the art that came out could be any version the artist designed on the general theme; each work is unique.

The Art-O-Mat website echos my feeling, “The experience of pulling the knob alone is quite a thrill, but you also walk away with an original work of art….” Or two. 

“What an easy way to become an art collector,” the website says. Indeed.

There are over 100 active machines in various locations throughout the country. Ryland and I might have some traveling ahead of us.