Writing about a Seth Price exhibition is problematic, as never was an artist so cannily aware of what is in play for the critic. Undoing any ambiguity that might reside in one’s role as observer, he even articulates how, in the process of writing, works otherwise kept in suspension in a gallery are given structure, in case I should have hoped to escape doing the same unnoticed.
Price’s medium is media—the communication, reproduction, dissemination and chaos that informs contemporary life. At 35, he is enjoying considerable success, having shown at the Whitney Biennial, PS1, Modern Art Oxford and many commercial galleries. According to Laura Cummings of the Guardian, the Kunsthalle Zürich is the ‘ne plus ultra of fashion’, and thus now cements Price’s reputation. But the Kunsthalle is to galleries what Monaco is to Grand Prix circuits, impressive, but bizarrely impractical. Rooms are generous and well appointed, yet visitors must follow exhibitions in a serpentine line before retracing their steps to exit.
Seth Price’s strategy for the space is to start with an assault of vacuum packaging: oversized packets of moulded bomber jackets; a single breast that repeatedly pokes out to metaphorically trip one up; ropes; and fists. A frieze made from a roll of clear acrylic leads from the entrance through this first room into a second, where it is overlaid with slices of fine timber that have been mechanically cut to make grainy negative spaces, forming images of clasped hands, figures eating and talking heads. The frieze leads into the final room, where it collapses off the wall and to the floor, forcing the visitor to step over it in order to see the video ‘Redistribution’.
It can’t be by chance that the only seats in the gallery are here, three rows of chairs that invite one into Price’s video narrative. In the same way as published texts by the artist remain open to revision, and editions are reissued or reviewed, the looped video is, we are told, a work in flux that can accommodate anything he chooses. The screen background is the kind of repetitive and meaningless graphic our computers produce when left to their own devices, while a frame hovering over this shows Price delivering a lecture about his work in front of yet another screen. The lecture includes works we have just seen, offering seductive explanations to prompt ‘ha ha’s’ of comprehension on the walk back to the entrance. But precisely in this neat clarification Price pre-empts the exhibition’s stability, picking up and proffering red herrings one after another. There is no doubt, for example, that the images lining the walls are culled from digital sources, and the awful image of Daniel Pearl’s head, recognisable from just a handful of pixels, could be a contemporary John the Baptist created from ruthless distillation of the western art canon. But this does a disservice to both images, real and biblical. Price is certainly aware of art history, and of how easy it is to make glib comments about the internet, but he also works in a sensual and intelligent way to make new ideas that hover over the exhibition. It is a shame that his smoke and mirrors of authorship and intent threaten to overshadow that.
Aoife Rosenmeyer is a writer and curator based in Zürich