2017-02-08 10:43:09
His Art Is on the Oxxo Shelves. Keep Your Receipt.

MEXICO CITY — It began as a friendly gesture. About five years ago, the artist Gabriel Orozco started printing colorful stickers that mimic the geometry of his abstract paintings: semicircles and quarter-circles in red, gold, white and blue. He plastered the patterns on the back of his iPhone and did the same for friends as small gifts.

Now this artist, so acclaimed that he was able to sell an empty shoe box to the Museum of Modern Art, is about to find out how much his colorful art objects are worth to the public.

For his newest project, which opened here on Wednesday, Feb. 8, he has transformed the Kurimanzutto gallery into a fully stocked and operating Oxxo convenience store, complete with cash registers, clerks, a coffee counter and the usual mix of candy, condoms, soda and toilet paper. Except that Mr. Orozco has added his own colorful logos to an array of 300 goods, from cans of Dos Equis beer and Jumex juice to packs of Camel cigarettes and Orbit gum — with all products for sale.

It’s an example of Mr. Orozco mining, as he has long done, everyday social exchanges and encounters. And it’s a vast experiment in art merchandising that raises questions about art as a commodity to be traded, while trying to make the gallery experience accessible and affordable to more people.

Prices for his “products” will change over time and with demand, according to a complicated set of rules. In standard gallery pricing, the cost of “multiples” like prints and photographs typically escalates as the edition sells out.

But in this case, with edition sizes for each artwork ranging from three to 10, prices start at $15,000 (close to usual gallery fees for blue-chip collectors who seek first choice and possibly a monopoly on a particular product line). They drop over time to $60 (closer to the cost of a shopping trip to Oxxo) on the project’s final day, March 16.

“I see this as a game — a bizarre, playful game, with elements of Monopoly, chess, go and maybe backgammon,” said Mr. Orozco, whose unruly gray hair and nubby wool jacket give him a hip-professor look. On a break from installation in the “store,” where assistants were applying stickers to packages, Mr. Orozco was talking, pacing and smoking in the Kurimanzutto courtyard outside the official red-and-yellow Oxxo entrance sign, which has the graphic punch of the best Pop Art.

“It’s a way of collapsing in the same physical space two different systems — the art market, which is about exclusivity and high prices, and the market for everyday consumer goods with their mass availability and low prices,” he said. “I’m interested in the turbulence that creates.”

A dense circular chart designed by Mr. Orozco tracks sales and availability. If every possible piece were to sell, the gross revenue would be around $5 million.

So is this the latest example of a moneymaking machine by an artist putting his stamp on everything in the spirit of great art-world branders like Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol?

He shook his head, noting that profits are not the only goal. “This is really a gamble,” he said. “The gallery is gambling because they don’t need to get into this absurd system of prices that gives them a headache already. I’m gambling because I can lose face if my system is a failure. And I think consumers will need a bit of faith, too.”

“If the system works, everyone wins and walks away with something of value,” he added. “If not, at least people can walk away with a nice little work of mine that I hope they will like and put on a shelf.”

Mr. Orozco is not the only artist to riff on a convenience store, with Claes Oldenburg opening a storefront on the Lower East Side of New York for a month in 1961 to sell sculptural versions of cigarettes, candy bars and other everyday items. In 2007, the Chinese multimedia artist Xu Zhen filled an exhibition called “ShanghART Supermarket” with empty products in a critique of globalization, inviting visitors to buy them or question their true value.

Mr. Orozco said he had the idea for his project six months ago while living in Tokyo, “the capital of convenience stores.” He started thinking about Oxxo’s popularity in Mexico, where it has 14,700 branches and opens roughly 25 more every week.

He reached out to a board member at Femsa, Oxxo’s parent company, who had helped him clear rights to reproduce a Sol beer mural in 2011. Known for its own art collection and cultural patronage, Femsa, the beverage and retail giant based in Monterrey, Mexico, agreed to organize and staff a pop-up Oxxo branch at Kurimanzutto at its own expense.

No doubt Mr. Orozco’s stature helped him land this support. His father was the second-generation Mexican muralist Mario Orozco Rivera, who worked for the great social realist painter David Alfaro Siqueiros.

And Mr. Orozco, 54, easily ranks as the most successful contemporary art export from Mexico — moving back and forth with his wife and 12-year-old son among New York, Tokyo, Paris and Mexico, with his next stretch planned for Bali.

He gained recognition while living in New York in the 1990s by making humble or ephemeral artworks, finding value in the disposable. For the 1993 work “Home Run,” he arranged for neighbors in high rises facing the Museum of Modern Art to place oranges in their windows, so the bursts of color were visible from the museum. The same year, he placed the empty white shoe box in the Venice Biennale. The next year, he nailed four clear Dannon yogurt lids to four walls of the Marian Goodman gallery.

This early work, sometimes grouped with Rirkrit Tiravanija and Maurizio Cattelan under “relational aesthetics,” proved hugely influential. One sign of its power was that critics expressed feelings tantamount to romantic betrayal when Mr. Orozco shifted in 2004 to exhibiting paintings: colored diagrams using circle fragments in a 2-1 or 1-2 pattern of a knight’s movement on a chess board. At Mr. Orozco’s 2009 MoMA retrospective, Jerry Saltz, the critic for New York magazine, dismissed his paintings as high-end screen savers — “contrived, unimaginative, banal, and risk-free,” essentially calling Mr. Orozco a sellout.

The Oxxo project can be read as a response to such critics, with Mr. Orozco combining the circle diagrams with a transparent, even defiant, exploration of art as commodity through a familiar item like a Pepsi can, his logo playing off its famous waves.

Jessica Morgan, the director of the Dia Art Foundation, who previously worked with Mr. Orozco at the Tate Modern, calls “the circulation of things in everyday life” a major theme in his work. “He takes very big ideas about movement and distribution and makes it all personal, tangible and often quite beautiful.”

“He’s managed to marry a conceptual practice with a real interest in object-making,” she added. “He makes very tactile work — you always want to touch it even if you shouldn’t.”

The project also reflects Mr. Orozco’s other longtime interests, including rescuing disposable goods. “I am in a way merchandising trash,” he offered, drinking coffee from an Oxxo cup. “I’m selling the byproducts of Oxxo — the empty cans, bottles and packages that normally end up in the garbage.”

He is also working with the form of the gallery itself, as he did in 1995 in Antwerp, Belgium. There he transformed the Szwajcer gallery into a small parking garage after noticing that his dealer did not have a legal parking space. His drawings hung on walls behind the cars.

The Oxxo project relates to his early retail interventions. He came up with the concept for Kurimanzutto’s inaugural show in 1999: a dozen artists taking over two stalls in the Mercado Medellín in Roma to sell artworks made with materials found in the market itself.

Mr. Orozco hung a toy ball inside a plastic bag wrapped with the thin skin of an agave plant. Monica Manzutto, his dealer, was stunned by the response. “A gallerist came to the market first thing at 8 a.m and said: I want all of the Orozcos,” she said. “Very fast we were faced with the problem of speculation, and we decided then: No, you can only have one. We all learned from that one.”

Now that Mr. Orozco’s paintings regularly sell for six figures, the desire to prevent flipping has grown, prompting the $15,000 starting price for the Oxxo artworks and his decision to “discontinue” many lines of products at a key point in the project.

“I want to prevent speculation at both ends: from big collectors abusing their timing and power so they get first choice and buy everything cheap, and also from someone who comes in to buy something at a low price and put it on eBay,” he said.

He has drafted other rules, including an injunction against insider trading or tipping off collectors to possible promotions. After 30 days, no more sales are allowed.

And to safeguard against forgery, one more rule: Buyers will get a receipt that doubles as a certificate of authenticity. On top is a new logo, something of an inside joke. It says “OROXXO.”