If art cost less money, would people buy more of it?

The experimental project “So Wrong It’s So Right” is spending four months challenging the gallery system. We'll see how that works out.

Jonathan Saiz working int he window at Leon Gallery.

 

Best to start this story with the one thing that will make you pay attention: If you act soon, and do a little exploring, you can get work by some of Denver’s most respected artists at a fraction of the price you might normally have to pay. Locally produced art at a very good value.

The opportunity comes via “So Wrong It’s So Right,” an experiment where local creatives are testing the gallery system to see how well they can do without dealers. The concept, according to artist and organizer Jonathan Saiz, is to sell art cheaper, but to sell a lot of it, and to avoid paying galleries the 50 percent commission they usually get.

The move isn’t anti-gallery. Saiz has done well in the system and hopes to again one day. But with “So Wrong It’s So Right,” he is tinkering with an alternative way of doing business: “The idea is to create a platform that communicates directly with the public.”

To accomplish his goal, Saiz has a marketing plan that’s part old-school and part alternative school. He’s renting out Leon Gallery — on busy 17th Avenue in Uptown  — and plans to fill the gallery’s very visible storefront window with a different piece of original art every day. He’s counting on drive-by traffic and the constantly changing scenery to generate enthusiasm.

At the same time, there’s a constantly buzzing feed on the social network Instagram — follow it at sowrongitssoright — with images of the works of art and the prices they’re going for. Since the project started June 1, individual items have gone for such prices as $11.99, $205 and $543.21. The amounts are a little odd, but things are moving at a clip.

As the project continues over 120 days, various artists will come in to create a piece with Saiz. The lineup features some impressive names, both established and emerging, including Molly Bounds, Caleb Hahne, Wes Magyar, Regan Rosburg, Margaret Neumann, Mario Zoots, Jeff Page, Diego Rodriguez-Warner, Travis Hetman, Frank T. Martinez, Andi Todaro and others.

Whatever the collaborators create is displayed in the window, and it sells for whatever they think their time and energy was worth. But count on it to be less than what these artists usually fetch for their wares.

Jonathan Saiz explaining how the gallery system can help – and not help – artists at a talk he presented at RedLine Art Center.

“Most people don’t have $2,000 or $6,000 or $8,000 to put toward art, but everyone has $20 tor $50 or $100,” said Saiz.

That $20 figure isn’t arbitrary. It was hatched during an exhibit that Saiz put on at Leon last fall. The show received a lot of good press and several works sold that were listed in the plus-and-minus $5,000 range. But Saiz also put together a wall of tiny, hand-made paintings priced at $20.

He sold 511 of them.

The total, $10,220, may not be much for artists in the upper levels of the market. But for most hard-working painters, sculptors and photographers, it could pay the rent for half a year.

The buyers, Saiz said, were “people who were coming through and just wanted to play. People who wanted to connect with artwork and not have to make a lifestyle out of paying for it or or protecting it or valuing it.”

“Value” is the key word here. And in the art world, that is both subjective and controversial. What makes a few strokes of paint on a canvas worth $10,000 or $80,000? It’s a combination of things, ranging from the originality of the work to the reputation of the artist. Some art, of course, is an investment.

But not all art rises to the level of genius, or even precious, and despite what dealers say about it, 99 percent of it isn’t going to appreciate. Art is, essentially, worth what people will pay for it and one hopes most buyers are handing over the cash because they connect emotionally with an object.

But the mystery of art, and the way galleries package it, leads to inflated prices that most people can’t afford, sending them off to Ikea or Target to buy mass-produced, overly sentimental junk that has zero originality or meaning. Artists who are working within that gallery system, it follows, wrack up meager sales.

“So Wrong It’s So Right” posits that a lot of art exists in the middle. That its value is neither sky-high nor bargain-basement. That it is a product, made by skilled creators, and it takes certain expenditures of time, materials and knowledge to make, and it deserves a reasonable return on its investment.

Artists intuitively know — or, at least, they guess or learn from experience — that some of their work is worth a lot of money and some is worth less.

But selling it for less is tricky. There’s no mechanism for that in a commercial scene dominated by luxury-level galleries, and there’s a fear that if they sell one thing low, they’ll have trouble selling the next thing high.

Saiz and his collaborators are staring down that fear, with some confidence that art can sell on two tracks,  to wealthy collectors and the dabbling masses. They believe people want to buy local, support artists in their city, and own something original, authentic and one-of-a-kind. And this project makes it easy for them to do that.

Well, not that easy. You do have to follow along and stay up to speed. It does help to be on Instagram and, maybe, make the occasional pass by Leon Gallery. In other words, you have to have some fun, play the game and not take it too seriously.

That’s the goal for the artists, as well. They’re collaborating across media, experimenting, sharing ideas. They’re actually working in the window so everyone can watch. There’s an element of performance.

No doubt, they’ll make good things and questionable things and things that are both. Some of them will find a home, some will end up orphaned, and some  might move on to specialized galleries. But “So Wrong It’s So Right” will be a fun Denver attraction for summer 2017 — either as a buyer, a maker, a watcher or something in between.

 “So Wrong It’s So Right” has an added bonus: Anyone who connects a sale — in any way — gets a 20 percent commission. The project runs through the end of September. See it unfold in person at Leon Gallery, 1112 E. 17th Ave., or follow it on Instagram at sowrongitssoright.

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