William Kherbek studies the “conceptual heft” of the envelope as art
As Berlin’s weekend of art overload begins, the gallery Eden Eden opens a show of works by Seth Price. Over the last ten years, Price has pursued a diverse practise that encompasses painting, video, publishing, performance and fashion design. Though neither the house of Alexander McQueen nor Jay-Z’s folks at Rocafella were left trembling by Price’s contribution to the fashion world, Price remains one of the most influential visual artists exploring the relationship between technology and visual culture. Central to Price’s work is the notion of exchange. In an extended essay entitled Dispersion from 2002, Price explicitly considers the way that the hyper-availability of images influences the way that they are valued. In the infinite click farm of the internet, scarcity has no meaning, so it is perhaps surprising that the bulk of Price’s show at Eden Eden consists of a limited number of screenprints of envelopes.
“Price’s work is a timely reminder that just because you can see something doesn’t mean it’s there”
The prints have a blunt literalism but retain the classically Pricean capacity to undermine their status as painted objects. There’s not a lot of ambiguity in the titles: Letter from Inside/Out and Letter from A Department Store show pretty much what they say on their surfaces, but in considering Price’s interest in the mechanics of exchange, the choice of subject matter could not be more appropriate. The envelope is the means by which letters became exchangeable in the retro-modern postal system, democratic in the same way the internet hints at being today, but also equally exclusive and excluding.
To see an envelope is to see that it conceals a message, that the message is private. To sell a painting of an envelope reifies the status of artworks as media of exchange, as well as exchange of ideas, exchange of messages, and, lest we forget, exchange of our old friend money. Some might find the message, such as it is, a bit too blunt, but what they lack in visual adventure, they make up for in conceptual heft; in the age of wholesale internet surveillance, Price’s work is a timely reminder that just because you can see something doesn’t mean it’s there. The dissemination of images on the internet is deceptive in a way similar to painting’s some-time mission: to create an image so realistic you self-consciously forget that it’s pure pigment (or code). In doing this, Price demands that the viewer consider the original engine of reproduction, the human mind.
Seth Price runs until 30 June at Eden Eden at Bülowstrasse 74 10783 Berlin. Click here for more information