FIVE THINGS ABOUT:
- Artisan and science enthusiast
- Has a degree in chemistry from Roosevelt university
- Lived in the Himalayan mountains in the Buddhist commune for two years
- Formulates soap and pink hair products
- Teaches regular chemistry classes for kids
- Photographer, videographer and studio artist
- Majored in film at Columbia college
- Mother is a painter, father is a commercial director
- Takes photographs for cafes and galleries
- Inspired by public art projects and utilizing “unused” space in urban settings
“I have a business, but no space to do it in!” said Leo.
“I have a space, but no business!” said Max.
We were doing monthly shows, featuring different artists. Then we had this idea of getting affordable art to people, and breaking this old gallery model where everything had to cost $20,000. Untouchable, sort of intimidating.
How can we make a really cheap piece of art, we asked ourselves. How cheap can we make it and still have it be interesting and attractive – a piece of art you would want?
It got down to the $1 mark.
Then we thought, that’s so cheap, we could give away 100 and that would only be $100. We started accumulating the collection of Chicago the Beautiful Library, and at our opening show, we debuted a wall of 300 free art pieces. All these people came out and we emptied the wall twice. We gave away 600 pieces that day. People’s reactions were “Why?” It’s a dollar, but the effect is huge! It changes the room. On top of that, we made all the money back through the donation box. At the end of the night, there’s always magically exactly how much money we put into the free art in the donation box.
Leo: One of the biggest things we are saying is that although art is not usually free, it is here. Art is free in the sense that you create value in a photo and a piece of wood. You look at it and make it beautiful with your mind. You make beauty and overlay it on the object instead of it radiating out towards you. It’s taking back the control. We’re reminding people that they have that ability, that by having an artistic mind, you can develop a vocabulary to discern the kind of things you like and the kind of things you don’t.
When people are at the wall and they have to choose which one to take home with them, they have to look at every single one. They have to sit at the wall for 3 hours and pick which one they like, thereby developing their artistic eye. It mimics the whole process of art buying on a smaller scale.
Max: You’re exercising this part of someone’s mind that they’re normally not using. When you’re watching television, it’s just going in. Choosing between different channels is not much of a choice. This, you really get to express yourself, it is artistic in some way.
Some people are terrified, and can’t believe we’re giving them something.
HOW MANY CONTRIBUTIONS HAVE YOU RECEIVED?
We’ve received thousands of pieces of artwork. Some people submit 300 images, there’s no limit to how many you can submit. We have over 20 GB of submissions we need to go through, all in .jpeg!
Is it just the two of you looking through these pictures?
Yeah, right on. We just project it on a giant TV screen and go like, “yes, no, yes, no…” It’s really cool though, because if you at least somewhat consider yourself a photographer, that means you have at least a few photographs you really like. Every photographer has at least one or two. You don’t have to be a photographer with a huge repertoire of work; amateurs take great photographs all the time. We get a lot of those, of people sending in their kittens.
But you’re gonna hire people to help, aren’t you?
Yeah! There are lots of artisans around, mostly those who enjoy the idea so much that they want to volunteer. There’s a new energy that comes out of volunteering. Here’s this money, we trust you, go do what you do!
Is it anonymous?
The back of the blocks are stamped with the initials of the artist or photographer. If you go on our website, you can find more information about them, and ways for you to buy artwork of theirs. The idea is that we expose and empower artists and get them money.
Max: Art is not a very respected profession. It is seen by many as a cop-out, lazy career choice. That’s really missing the whole point. I would like to do whatever I can to make art a stronger part of society.
Where do you see the Free Art Machine going?
Leo: The Free Art Machine will continue forever! We plan on making little resin sculptures that will cost maybe 30 cents to make. We’ll have people come in with their designs from home and create free art that way. There are lots of cool ways to expand the Free Art Machine, to spread it out, to change it. If we get $25,000 [from kickstarter.com] we can commission artists that we really like and say something like, “Here’s $500, make 500 pieces of free art”. That is super exciting for me, who knows what they are going to come up with?
Max: It may transform into all kinds of things that are not even under “Chicago the Beautiful”, stuff like “Moscow the beautiful” and so on. It’s not our idea: it’s an idea.
Leo: The experiment runs as long as we keep getting the money back. If we do, we’ll keep doing this!