Denver-based artist Jonathan Saiz is confronting the idea that owning original art is only for the one-percenters with a unique concept. His six-sided kiosk, an “art vending machine” of sorts, will offer hundreds of his mini oil paintings to the public throughout the month of December. The hexagonal kiosk features six windows with different designs that display a single two-square inch painting. When someone takes one of the paintings, Saiz will replace the empty space with a new and original design. Each oil painting will be $20, but the purchaser is not allowed to give the money at the time they take the oil painting— instead, they will leave their email address and their promise to pay in the future. The experimental art vending machine is designed entirely by Saiz, but is made possible through the support and space at Understudy in the Colorado Convention Center.
The installation is titled Blue Chipped— a reference to a Blue Chip stock investment where art is highly commodified based on traits that may have nothing to do with the actual artistic value of the work. Blue Chipped is Saiz’s seedling idea for how to change the art market to favor the artists instead of investors, by directly connecting the artist with a wider audience. On all six sides of the vending machine, Saiz has personalized the clipboards that will provide the purchasers with a paper and pen to write their email addresses for future payment. It’s worth the time to read each of these clipboards, with short, biting quips that explain Saiz’s motivation for the piece.
He was able to test this idea out at Leon Gallery this past year, when he priced his small oil paintings at $20 amidst his other works worth thousands of dollars and sold over 500 of the minis. “It showed me there was this collective hunger for approachable art that is still an investment,” Saiz explained, “even hundreds of dollars is a choice you have to make, whereas $20 is right at that Starbucks level.” In other words, people can justify a $20 original oil painting, but have trouble reaching further into their pockets for art with higher price tags.
To continue with his ideas about re-evaluating art, Saiz envisioned an even more straightforward approach than selling affordably at galleries. The art kiosk was born, originally in the hopes of marketing it to art museums and their gift shops, but finding an even more exciting home in the heart of the Denver Theatre District. David Moke, with Understudy, remarked “Saiz is exactly what Understudy is looking for— this installation could be considered our mission statement. It’s accessible, everyone is welcome, and everyone can walk away with local and original art.” Understudy will not be making any commission on these paintings either, the $20, if paid, will go entirely to Saiz. The hours to stop by and get a painting of your own are more ambitious than any art museum, too— from December 5 to 24, Saiz will be painting and reloading artworks within the six walls of the kiosk seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. And yes, you read that correctly— Saiz has designed the vending machine to accommodate a few tables, a chair, his painting supplies and him so that he can be painting the pieces inside while people browse and take on the outside. Peek into the walls after taking your piece and you might catch a glimpse of him hard at work.
Aside from Saiz’s disgust at the global economic systems and specifically the economics of art with 100 million dollar investment portfolios, he is also interested in the metaphors and symbolism behind the size of his mini paintings. By working on a canvas one and a half inches square, he allows himself a tremendous freedom for a variety of subject matter without needing to commit to one. His paintings are replicas of traditional works, abstract designs, numbers or letters, portraits, landscapes and more. The snapshots available at Blue Chipped only have one thing in common— the color blue. Part of the inspiration behind the nearly obsessive amount of blue— from the reflective electric blue plexiglass to the blue-themed paintings, to the reference to Blue Chip stocks—was incorporating into the Denver Theatre District’s theme with the Blue Bear and Blue Trees.
Incorporating the hundreds of individual mini paintings together into a theme puts Saiz’s work in the realm of mosaics, where broken pieces can create a unified picture. It’s intriguing that he distributes the pieces out to the public because then the mosaic is connected over a huge scope, with each separate owner. “I remember when I was in art school and they took us to these crazy big museums and you’d see the Master paintings, and I started asking what made it a Master painting. I looked at every inch of it, the brushstrokes, everything. It was a fantasy back then, 15 years ago, to see what it would be like to make a valuation of a Matisse in a bunch of tiny squares. A pixelated democratization in a weird way. That’s one of the things I’m trying to do here,” Saiz said.
“A pixelated democratization” is a perfect representation of what Saiz is trying to accomplish because he is relying on people turning out and “voting” for this new system of artistic distribution by paying in the future for something they already have. There’s no guarantee people will pay but Saiz is okay with that because he sincerely wants the art market to undergo a major transformation. At the bottom of each clipboard— and at the heart of Blue Chipped—a statement reads “this is an experiment in trust. When everything’s transactional, we forget our humanity.”
There will be a blue-themed party for the installation on December 11 from 4 to 8 p.m., with candy and hot herbal tea, free and open to the public. Saiz will be in attendance (like he will be every day until Christmas Eve). Check into Understudy’s Facebook page for more details.