You can’t photograph what’s in collector’s houses

Damon Zucconi
Oct 23, 2013 9:43PM
Untitled, 2009
Gagosian Gallery

Excerpt from an interview with Chris Bollen & Seth Price.

PRICE: I also wonder if it’s because a lot of art is privatized. Fashion blogs depend on this street photography renaissance, but you can’t photograph what’s in collector’s houses. I had this interesting experience of looking through an auction catalog last summer for the first time, because one of my works was on the cover. It’s amazing, there’s this other world, you see pieces you’d never see in a museum or gallery or magazine, because it’s based purely on the logic of the market. Maybe a piece was sold to someone before it was ever showed or properly documented, and that person sat on it and sold to someone else, and it never entered the common conversation. I’m talking about pieces by great artists that are almost totally unknown. And then there’s a lot of crap, too, probably overwhelmingly. But strange, never-seen crap.

BOLLEN: It’s amazing to think of this whole hidden chapter of art out there that no one has access too. It’s like a secret art history behind the very public one we think we know so well. How do you feel about making art works that end up like that, going right into rich people’s houses and never being seen by a larger audience?

PRICE: I’m fine with it [laughs]. I don’t need to see my work again after it leaves my studio. I don’t have a sentimental attachment. As long as I have documentation, I’m good.

BOLLEN: People have this misconception that artists should be thrilled that their work is selling at auction. But you and I both know many artists who are devastated by auctions. They feel they are being cheated by their original collector or worry that the work will get in the wrong hands and won’t end up in the right museums or collections. Really an auction is the moment when an artist has lost total control of the work. Does that bother you?

PRICE: I have for some reason mostly escaped the auctions. People are sitting on their Prices. It’s probably one of those cases where they’re waiting for a high-profile collector to test the waters. I still don’t fully understand why it’s something to worry about, I know it’s similar to dumping stocks, and your conception of value as an artist rides on that sort of thing, but so far I haven’t been burned and I don’t have a personal feeling about it.

BOLLEN: On my Facebook account the other day, an avid art patron who shall remain nameless posted an article that basically said, “in this day of stock market volatility and real estate implosion, the rich are diversifying their art portfolio.” In other words, art is a safer investment right now than gold. This woman posted the article as if it were something the art world should celebrate. I don’t want to seem old fashioned. Nor do I think that arts need to be poor to create legitimate works. And yes money makes the art world go round. But I think a bunch of disinterested speculators buying up art and determining who gets shows and what has value is pretty awful. At least it’s not the reason I took refuge in art as a young adult. I thought in your essay Dispersion, you were trying to figure out ways to short circuit that relationship between the artist and the buyer.

PRICE: I was thinking about a different model of circulation, but I never thought of it as a replacement. I always liked the idea of redundancy. To operate in different economies, sometimes with the very same artwork. Dispersion is an example of that. It’s a free PDF online, so it’s available any time, with no price and no spatial location, or endless locations if you prefer. And then it exists as a booklet you can buy, it sells for ten dollars at Printed Matter. So that’s the shareware economy and the retail economy. And then I took the essay’s layout file and printed the spreads on plastic and vacuum-formed them over knotted ropes. That is sculpture, it was for sale in the art market, the essay got broken up and the pages got sent to different homes.

BOLLEN: Isn’t that a bit like having your cake and eating it too? You can say your work is free to the public but you also get to sell it to the highest bidder. I don’t know, Seth.

PRICE: I know, I thought about that a lot. But it was important for me to do that with Dispersion. I didn’t do it with my other texts. I could have, and that would be the cynical gesture. But Dispersion was always all about circulation and economies of circulation. I never thought of it as an ‘essay,’ it was a kind of ambiguous mix of the text along with its design and its circulation, the whole envelope, and this was a way to bring that out. I wanted to drag it back from being simply a set of propositions, take it back into material and the plastic arts, highlight the graphic composition of the design files. I don’t know if it was a successful gesture, but it seemed like there were enough questions or conflicts there that it was worth trying. I knew it would be something people would critique. But there’s so much anxiety among artists and critics about the concept of selling out that it must be an interesting concept to engage with on some level. I always like working in an area where there is a threat of compromise. Well, not always. But it’s good to feel a little uncomfortable about some aspect of a work, whether it’s material, or conceptual, or some aspect of the economics. If you don’t play with them they start to flow really smoothly and soon you’ve forgotten that they’re things you can fuck with.

Damon Zucconi