Those who are aware of Seth Price’s work and success prior to viewing his latest exhibition, at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, will certainly find familiar his fixation with creating archives and channels of distribution, even if it isn’t his most successful investigation. Composed almost entirely of laser-cut wall-mounted positives derived from the enlarged negative spaces of jpegs, the exhibition shows work that transforms freely circulated digital files from the annals of Google into industrially produced gallery-ready objects.
Initially culled by plugging verbs into a search engine, at first glance these works look largely abstract, and seem to owe a little too much to the cast negative spaces of Bruce Nauman and Rachel Whiteread. Best known for their 3-D sculptures of areas beneath chairs, Nauman and Whiteread produced works whose success lay not only in cleverness but in the form’s retention of mystery and ambiguity, even after the viewer was informed of its origins. By contrast, Price chooses the two-dimensional space framing an action as his subject, a project that quickly comes to mimic the perceptual illusion drawings of the vase and faces (looked at one way, the drawing appears to be two faces in profile, another, it’s a vase). Naturally, any elegance within the seemingly abstract shapes made of faux wood grain disappears once the subject is recognized.
Notably, most of the negative spaces depict hands in the process of doing something, be it eating, writing, holding a microphone, etc. The only literally depicted image in the show hangs in the back room: a drawing copied from a book on shadow puppetry. Here, and throughout the show, Price points to the invisible hand of the artist, a reasonable subject, albeit banal, when reduced to a series of literalized actions that simply remove them from the production of the object itself, or their depiction.
In conjunction with the show, Price also provides a book titled How to Disappear in America, and an 8-hour long continuous mix of dance music from the last three decades. Again, the text also lacks the strength of earlier writing, his 2002 essay Dispersions now generative. This latest work however certainly displays more dexterity in purpose than its aesthetized exhibition partner; the detailed guide providing specific instructions on how best to destroy objects affirming the status quo. I do however feel compelled to point out the flaw in the suggestion that disappearing might also be achieved by moving up north. I'm sure Canada would love to have him – as a citizen I should know – but we'd probably ask that he at least acknowledge the inconsistency in publishing a book with the title How to Disappear in America and then simply jumping ship.