Though he had already shown his video “Painting” Sites
(2000–01) at the 2002 Whitney
Biennial—and had already written Dispersion
(2002–present), a text-based artwork that would later become an important art historical essay—the Israeli-born American artist Seth Price only sold his first artwork at the end of 2004, nearly eight years after receiving his undergraduate degree from Brown University. Price was on the precipice of turning 31, and was enjoying his first solo exhibition at the newly launched Lower East Side gallery Reena Spaulings Fine Art.
Untitled (2004), one of the works in that debut exhibition, was a multimedia sculpture consisting of a photograph of a marbleized surface affixed to safety glass and propped up on two stacks of CDs, each containing a jihadist beheading video. Despite it being one of the priciest—and most challenging—works in the exhibition, Untitled sold for somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000. (Where feasible, Artsy has attempted to confirm exact sales figures; this was not always possible.)
“None of us had expected a sale,” Price told Artsy. “I hadn’t made a sculpture before that show, and before that year, I hadn’t exhibited much of anything, anywhere, so no one had heard of me, and Reena Spaulings itself was new. The sale felt like winning the lottery, like maybe it wouldn’t happen again. I was just really happy.”
Though he maintains the anonymity of the buyer (opting to mention that they had likely been tipped off about his work by Carol Greene, founder of Greene Naftali Gallery and a “big help” to Reena Spaulings at the time), Price said his first patron wasn’t the type to purchase a piece and flip it at the nearest available opportunity.
“After the sale, the gallery called and said, ‘This guy’s a dream collector,’” recalled Price. “At the time I agreed he was a nice guy, but with more experience, I can confirm that he is, in fact, a dream collector. He lived with my work in his apartment, and still has it years later.” Price, whose work has since sold for as high as $785,000, said the collector also lent Untitled
(2004) to “Social Synthetic,” the artist’s first-ever survey exhibition held at the Stedelijk Museum