Art Criticism

Seth Price: Miam!

Seth Price: Paper (2011), in Miam! (Chantal Crousel, 2011).
Exhibition review published in ArtReview (London), no. 51, Summer 2011, p. 170.

Miam! (literally ‘yummy!’), Seth Price’s first solo show in France, is a collection of a dozen vacuum-formed wall pieces (all works 2011), in which knotted lengths of rope are preserved in painted plastic. Most of these ‘assemblage paintings’ (if we shall categorise them as such; after all they do hang on walls) present abstract bursts of colors or monochromes that were applied after the ropes were randomly thrown into the composition, except a few that display some figurative content – drawings of the artist that he digitally enlarged and printed on plastic sheets before the vacuum-forming packaging process, and that represent satirical sketches of characters eating, such as in Shrimp, Indian Summer and Spago. The show is completed by an audio piece, Language Lesson, a four-minute recording of a tale written and narrated by Price himself, and played continuously within the exhibition space along with projected subtitles (in French). The fable tells the story of a girl who falls under the spell of an evil woman in the middle of the woods and gets rescued by a man, who sets the witch’s legs on fire. Incidentally (and this isn’t as trivial as you may think within the broader context of the show), the lady’s limbs happen to become some charred wooden stumps that sketch shapes and figures on the ground while she runs after the two fugitives.

For someone who isn’t already familiar with the New York-based artist’s body of works – which includes media productions with video and music, wall pieces using vacuum-form technology, drawing, performance and most importantly writing (his repeatedly revised essay Dispersion (2002-), which has undoubtedly contributed to Price’s great critical reception within the art world) – his first solo show in Paris doesn’t reflect much (at least at first glance) of the aesthetic challenge that his theoretical and plastic investigation of contemporary art and media distribution has presented since the beginning of his career. Nevertheless, considering Price’s overall oeuvre, some recurrent aspects of his inquiry can be found in the interaction between the tale and the vacuum-formed assemblage paintings on show. What fuels his practice is seemingly the notions of boundless adaptability and re-creation, which for that matter inform not only the elastic nature of plastic but also and more significantly our contemporary culture within the mutable form of web-based archives (where data can always be added, modified or removed). Accordingly, the fake or foolish origin that the fable suggests by simple juxtaposition, for the sketches and colourful shapes spreading from one plastic wall piece to another finally strikes one as a sarcastic and brilliant irresolution.

In rejecting the notion of finitude, even the notion of authorship or clear origin (in this regard, his many collaborations with Reena Spaulings, the dealer/artist/gallery who represents him in New York, speak for themselves), Price systematically leaves holes (like empty packaging blisters) within his works that can be filled with false history over time through the spectator’s experience or the evolution of the artist’s thinking. Indeed, within the context of his show at Crousel, whether the drawings and tale originate from the artist himself matters very little, for only the continuing mythologies on which the artist’s work is grounded must come forward. Leaving you with this thought: bon appétit!

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