Introduction
by Anthony Huberman
There’s not much that isn't already processed. Artificial systems prepare or modify the objects we use, the images we see, the protocols we follow, or the food we eat. Raw data gets compressed and encoded in such a way as to be perfectly legible but also perfectly mutable.

It has to do with smoothing out the edges and making things easier to swallow. It's become the way of the world.

Seth Price, "Vintage Bomber,"  2008
Seth Price, "Vintage Bomber," 2008


But if information is elastic, manufactured, and re-adjustable, it also becomes unreliable and ripe for abuse. People can decide that news is real and then fake and then real again, all over the course of a single afternoon.

Seth Price adds problems to those transitions. He delays and drags them out, inserting knots and contradictions. His enemy is the image: it’s too disembodied, too convincing, and too plastic. It instantly flattens three dimensions into two and makes the world into a picture. Price works to prevent objects and ideas from settling into the comfort zone of the image.

Price is particularly wary of the digital, because that’s one of those places images go to get comfortable. So he adds bulk to his images, loading them up with material, redundancy, and echo. He re-processes them — redigitizing the already-digitized, resampling the already-sampled, reformatting the already-formatted, redistributing the already-distributed, redistorting the already-distorted. Images go from being flat to being tough.

In Price’s work, the synthetic is both the form as well as the subject of critique: it’s art that incorporates and reflects back on its own ingredients.

Seth Price, "Hostage Video Still with Time Stamp," 2005
Seth Price, "Hostage Video Still with Time Stamp," 2005


Before we get started with Price, let’s not forget all of what we've already digested. Artists like Andy Warhol and Sherrie Levine, for example, helped establish that surface is everything, pictures represent representations, and so on. We don’t need art to re-diagnose or re-illustrate that all over again, but to ask, What now? Where do we go from here?

When the tendency is for everything to open out in all directions at all times, Price tells us, the problem is trying to establish a meaningful relationship between any two things. If the “digital” has led to a crisis of meaning — where all can be packaged, mediated, filtered, and altered at any time — the question, moving forward, is how can art survive it?

Seth Price, "Untitled Film/Right," 2006
Seth Price, "Untitled Film/Right," 2006


Price started off by avoiding the image and visual art altogether. He wrote short stories and made music instead. But he eventually took the plunge and began thinking about how to put some distance between art and the image — how to extract some freedom from all the rampant instrumentalization.

Price was born in 1973, and it shows. Those born a couple decades earlier were hesitant, at least at first, about using the Internet. Those born a couple decades later, on the other hand, never knew a world without Photoshop and therefore don’t understand how an image could ever be a fixed and inflexible thing. Price was young enough to dive deep into technology’s new tools and languages but old enough to recognize what they were doing to the nature of information. He wasn’t blind to the fact that the Internet is far from being the utopia some make it out to be. It, too, can be shut down by iron fists or filtered by corporate greed.

Seth Price,"Redistribution," 2007 - present
Seth Price,"Redistribution," 2007 - present


And Price recognizes that he, too, inevitably risks settling into being a processed image — the cool and successful white male artist from New York. So he re-profiles his own profile by titling one of his shows Steh Pirce or by writing a novel about a cool and successful white male artist from New York, called Fuck Seth Price. Via spelling and via fiction, he re-processes his own image so that it gets messier and more textured, becoming an amalgamation of honesty, dishonesty, invention, confession, power, and vulnerability. Fuck Seth Price, along with his many other written works, doesn’t spell out his position but experiments with it, like poetry. Are they written with sincerity or with duplicity? I like them both, he says, casting doubt on his own validity, like an act of self-sabotage. Or, just as likely, like an act of camouflage.

That said, Price doesn’t skip over the hypocrisy and admits that taking distance from the market is so much easier when the market supports you.

Seth Price, "Fuck Seth Price," 2015
Seth Price, "Fuck Seth Price," 2015


You can pick up his novel at your local bookstore, find it on Amazon, or download a PDF from the artist’s website. At the bookshop, you can chat with Jim, the friendly face behind the counter, about neighborhood gossip or new arrivals, and he might slip a letter-pressed bookmark in your bag on your way out. On Amazon, you log in, notice the discount, click buy, and move on to something else. Distribution channels each have their pros and cons.

In 2002, Price published Dispersion, which many have mistaken not only as an art historical essay, but as an argument in favor of fluidity and flow. But it’s a piece of public sculpture, an artwork that uses and reformats some of the forms that exist in the public realm — namely that of the published art historical essay and the tools and mechanisms of public circulation. Distribution is not the same as dispersion, mind you: the former is about increasing accessibility and saturating a market, whereas the latter is about spreading information out across several markets, making it, in fact, harder to access, claim, and control. Spotify distributes music files, while torrent sites disperse them. The former is a business, the latter is punk.

Seth Price, "Dispersion," 2002 -
Seth Price, "Dispersion," 2002 -


Seth Price pits information against itself by dispatching it down a range of competing, overlapping, but also often incompatible channels: art, music, fashion, design, literature, poetry, persona, criticality, formalism, commercialism, politics. My work is impure and self-contradicting.

Choose an image, or any digital file. Make it material by forcing it to inhabit a genre that it can adapt to, but make it one that is still somewhat foreign and will require some disfiguration. Give it the look and feel of a luxury good, a CD, a calendar, or a line of clothing. Each comes with (and demands) its own set of existing materialities, economies, rituals, distribution networks, and built-in styles — and each offers different meanings and opportunities for use and misuse.

Paint your subjectivity into it, he says.

But no matter what he makes, Price is well aware that by the time he’s done, the image or reference he began with will have already moved on and morphed into something else. That’s another way art can keep some distance from the digital and its images: it can exist as a ruin or a souvenir. Not insta-, but automatically out of date.

Seth Price, Installation view, Stedelijk Museum, 2017
Seth Price, Installation view, Stedelijk Museum, 2017


In this act of re-routing or reformatting, to paraphrase the artist/critic/gallerist John Kelsey, resolution is lost and gained, value escalates and plummets, legibility and accessibility fluctuate. The file is not what matters — it’s what you and others do to it, and the contamination that happens along the way that matters. Aesthetic, ethical, economical, and political wires will be crossed, and the knots will expose something about how those wires work and why they’re configured the way they are. All will be visible in the material.

Some artists make work “about” the codes of mass culture, but Price’s critique goes further by activating and perverting those codes as form. He re-processes those codes by weighing them down in material and by broadcasting them through different kinds of channels — and ensures that images don’t get too digital and too available. Melted plastic, jagged edges, crumpled mylar, bad design, shitty surfaces, messy ropes, pixelated body parts, bare PVC piping.

Seth Price, "Ariana," 2015
Seth Price, "Ariana," 2015


Seth Price takes information and disperses it, vacuum seals it, silhouettes it, designs it, or misspells it. He re-sends it out via envelopes made of metal or made of cloth. He develops tools that reformat and reprocess, causing information to contradict itself or to become not quite so ready-to-wear. He makes images whose edges are still sharp to the touch.



Seth Price was born in 1973 in Sheikh Jarrah, Palestine. He lives and works in New York.

Seth Price, "Double Pattern Bag with Charm," 2012
Seth Price, "Double Pattern Bag with Charm," 2012


Anthony Huberman is the Director and Chief Curator of CCA Wattis Institute and was the Founding Director of The Artist's Institute.