Seth Price at Friedrich Petzel
“Seth Price at Friedrich Petzel,” ARTPULSE Magazine, Winter 2013: 54-55.

Might have called this show “Underwriters.” The power of the purse. This and other quips were written by Seth Price and posited as press release material for his recent solo exhibition at Friedrich Petzel. Folklore U.S., the inaugural show at Petzel’s new space on 18th street in Chelsea, is a conflation of two ostensibly different projects; a reiteration of Price’s project for Documenta 13 of the same title, which comprises a clothing line (a collaboration with designer Tim Hamilton) as well as sculptural works, and a selection of recent vacuum-formed polystyrene rope paintings. Price, an artist that works with industrial materials and the production and distribution of meaning in consumer culture as well as in the art world, is incredibly self-reflexive in his writings as well as in his material works. The discursive frameworks he constructs often warrant his production and play a significant role in how these are perceived. But here, Price’s material mimicry of late capitalism is too self-indulgent. Oscillating between a desire for criticality and an impulse to comply with notions of use value by way of hyperbolic production, Price is too acquiescent to the distribution models he critically approaches, which by now have absorbed, digested and made its own a discourse that has been neutralized by its own devices of production and subsequent reproduction.

Price’s proposal for Kassel here is in part reinvented due to the constrictions of the gallery space. Upon entering the space to the left, a display of clothing designed by both Price and Hamilton is presented on a coat rack. If it weren’t for the white gloves dangling from a hanger (one is instructed to wear them to handle the clothes) and the aesthetic uniformity of the clothing, one might dismiss it in its entirety. But once aware of them, their presence becomes quite paradigmatic of the exhibition’s intent and purported meaning. These military inspired clothing, made from canvas and lined with the logos of financial corporations such as UBS and CapitalOne, become a trope for the relationships between big money, militarism, fashion and contemporary art. Price’s related sculptures are also wrappers of some sort; sculptures in the form of oversized legal envelopes made of canvas, some lying around in low pedestals, others hanging, half-opened, undone, to reveal financial logo linings or abstract forms that are meant to conceal what may be inside, but what is visibly empty, without content and ostensibly void. Just as Price’s vacuum formed paintings, there is an emptiness that begs to be filled, an empty shell. And it is upon this idea of emptiness, where corporate greed, art, fashion and the military converge. The clothing line exhibited at Kassel served to homogenize and neutralize, to reveal that we are inextricably a part of the corporate machinery, much like the models standing still like robotized soldiers waging a senseless war, but in this Folklore U.S. the void is of service to another end; to reveal the nothingness that so many objects can produce.

Extrapolating a project from its initial site of presentation and distribution is a tricky endeavor. In the case of Folklore U.S., what produced some type of meaning in Kassel becomes something trite in Chelsea. The list of visual and ideological associations in both iterations of of the project are however quite literal. Correlating high fashion with art and financial corporations with militarism is uneventful; they are all heavily underwritten by private wealth. Also, what Price calls folklore here is ubiquitous; capital has become the mythical foundation of culture and society. But if Price’s objects as well as his discourse lie within the interstices of criticism and complicity, here criticality seems to be completely stripped by overproduction and excessive self-awareness. The press release, purposefully serving the function of object, mediation and self-justification, operates as a mechanism to anticipate the exhibition’s criticisms while also foreclosing any critical approach to it, therefore reinscribing the empty shell or void that Price’s objects represent. At the end, in Folklore U.S. at Petzel, capital and the means of production and distribution are mimicked, reproduced and hyperbolized, criticality reduced to a mere gimmick, and as viewers we are left with nothing more than a hollow and commercially viable spectacle.