Seth Price is slippery. Since the 1990s, the artist has produced genre-defying works that intersect film with technology, photography with archaeology, sculpture, cartography and even zoology – while making music and writing memoirs. and fiction. Now that technology is the dominant movement in art, he opens his first exhibition of paintings. Well, sort of.
“My work often falls through the cracks of categories,” says Price. “It worried me before, but now I think it saved me.”
The sign on the door to his studio next to a taxi repair shop in an unnamed block in Queens, New York says Seth Price LLC and appears to belong to an accounting firm. Inside, the studio is quite bare. His latest work has been packed and shipped for its first exhibition since the pandemic and its first gallery showing in London.
Strolling through his studio, Price, a lanky, handsome 48-year-old, says he’s always had an interest in painting but couldn’t get it to work until recently. In part, he says, his interest arose from reaction to a series of light boxes he made a few years ago.
These pieces were made using thousands of high-resolution scans of human skin – and in one case, a squid he bought in Chinatown. The scientific camera tool that took the photos treated the photographs like an archaeological dig and generated 400,000 photographs which were stitched together with card-making technology and printed onto fabric. But in the end, you had a “photograph of a human by another human using a camera,” he says.
Price says he thought he brought something to photography, but a lot of people saw it as an installation or a softbox. “I think that’s part of the reason why I thought it might be interesting to do things that would definitely be paintings. Partly because I think you don’t have to explain your intention and meaning with the paint. People are fine with just accepting it. People have a lot of visual intelligence for painting that they may not have for an installation.
He adds, “They’re okay with looking at 19th century painting and being aware that there’s a lot of buried meaning that they don’t quite understand. They agree that “I liked that, I liked that area of paint manipulation, I like the scene”, even the idea that there is meaning, and even if they don’t know what it is. There is a very sophisticated interplay between knowing and not knowing. But they are not as comfortable applying this to other forms of work.
The London show is titled Art is not human and merges Price’s lifelong interest in technology with more traditional painting techniques. The pieces were made with gels and paints, poured, brushed and smeared with fingers, then loaded onto Price’s computer where they collided with 3D images that reflect the techniques of his gesture painting – when the paint is applied with broad and bold gestures.
“I think it ends up creating a very strange and unsettling encounter between gesture painting and machine space,” Price says.
The Price software uses – 4D cinema – is the same as digital artist Mike Winkelmann, AKA Beepleuses to create his dizzying production of unnuanced surrealism, a production that earned Winkelmann a $70 million salary at an auction at Christie’s last year and helped cement the non-fungible token (NFT) as the hottest trend in the art world.
Price’s new works couldn’t be more different. He said he wanted to avoid “surrealism and storytelling because 3D usually wanders in there”. Not that it’s deliberately upsetting. Price remains deeply interested in the technology and sees NFTs as an exciting development that opens up new possibilities for paid artists – in art, music and writing – by giving people new ways to share. After social media disappointments, “these blockchain technologies offer a way to rethink what a platform is and who benefits from it,” Price said. “Artists will do something really cool with it. As usual, 90% of it won’t be very interesting but that’s not unusual.
And while he thinks about the possibilities of new technologies, there is still life in the old ones. Price is currently working on an essay/fiction/memoir for an online arts magazine Heavy traffic which will be – theme alert – printed, and it also updates its ever-changing experimental art/film history Dispersion. The old never completely replaces the new, he argues, it is simply absorbed.
“All the old technologies are still great. Photography hasn’t replaced painting, things just keep bending,” he said. He hands me a cassette of his music as he leaves (I have to find my old walkman). Her Gen Z daughter just asked her to give her everything Taylor Swift — on CD.
“Maybe there was a time when people thought or dreamed or were afraid that [physical] the product was going away, but in fact, we come back to the realization that we love it too much. The books never disappeared, instead they were simply increased by this other way of reading. Maybe there was a generation that was told objects were in the past, but the generations above and below were like, “What are you talking about?” »
And with that, we return to painting.
“Painting is like a perfectly evolved, historically art form,” Price said. “It’s like how a cockroach or a shark evolves perfectly. Sure, it’s still evolving, but the suspended two-dimensional framed object can last forever because it’s so good.