Price of Entry

Hiji Nam around Manhattan

The poster for Seth Price’s show “Ardomancer.” Image: Petzel Gallery.

LAST FRIDAY AFTERNOON at David Zwirner, Benjamin Buchloh was heralding Gerhard Richter as the painter-inheritor of twentieth-century History. Then he added: “Will his paintings have lasting reverberations like the urinal? Probably not.” An ambivalent aperitif of a speech to kick off the evening. Later that night, around the corner at Petzel, Seth Price unveiled his large-scale paintings impeccably mixing 3-D graphics, abstraction, and AI-generated representation, in his first New York solo show in five years, only the second time in nearly a decade he’s exhibited new work. They looked small in the gallery’s new Chelsea space, which is big, big, big—perhaps too big to fail or succeed. Afterwards, some seven-hundred people were invited to the celebration at the Ukrainian National Home, where the banquet hall was empurpled and piping with fog-machines. In a winding line, artists elbowed each other at the bar while waiting to stuff their faces with variations on the humble potato—latkes, pancakes, french fries, with a bit of wilted salad.

Maybe it was from eating too many spuds, but truthfully, I felt weighed down by a profound sense of inertia, like I was stitched into the upholstery. I thought back to being new to the art world, and the vitalizing feeling that there was something happening here; there was this scene of people, and they all knew each other and had this history, this language. It was glimmering and seductive, brimming with a sense of fellowship and the flow of conversation, always insular, meta-analytic, and encoded. On top of that there was always the commerce and parties, but at its heart it struck me as a community of seekers who believed that the search was worthwhile.

Artists Sanya Kantarovsky, Olga Balema, and Asha Schechter at Petzel.

Sitting there on Friday night, though, I couldn’t help but wonder, who was my generation’s Seth Price, and who actually cares? If Reena, Real Fine Arts, and Jenny’s were modeled after the Cologne school and American Fine Arts lineage, I (a cuspy millennial) sense little interest among Gen Z in carrying that torch. In a climate of increasing professionalization, sterilization, and consolidation in the art world, participating in the mainstream institutions of the culture industry is an increasingly thankless pursuit.

I often think that Price may have had his finger on the pulse all too well with his slippery, algorithmic brand of cool that seems to have foreseen the end of a specific kind of art world. When I ask him about generational shifts, Price answers: “The internet is probably over, like cinema was, like the novel before that—I mean, they exist, but they become historic forms, they become academic, and young people get impatient with that and want to do something else.”

Artists Francesco Vizzini, Norman Chernick-Zeitlin, Stewart Uoo, and curator Jordan Carter.

For better or worse, Zoomers don’t want to be broke and obscurely cool artists; they want to be rich and legibly cool entrepreneurs. This might explain why there was hardly an attendee under the age of thirty. My favorite part of the night was when Price got on the stage to deliver a speech. “I’d like to thank . . .” he began, before swaying and beatboxing as his words gave way to synthetic glitches and electronic oscillations, alongside music provided by Adrian Rew of Ergot Records.

On Saturday evening, after popping down to Brooklyn to see Bill Hayden’s concise show of painting-drawings (soon be shown at Milan’s Federico Vavassori) in his home studio, I headed to the West Village for Henry Belden’s opening of violent, baroque, and beautiful tray assemblages at Bill Cournoyer’s apartment-gallery, The Meeting. Each piece evokes an exotic specimen trapped in a pool of resin—Marilyn Monroe with a black eye, Belden’s partner Kye Christensen-Knowles as a butterfly and a wind-up doll—like some defiled Wunderkammer. Appropriately, Henry is reading Alain Robbe-Grillet’s A Sentimental Novel, an incestuous S&M fairytale; Kye is reading Maurice Blanchot. (Even if books are an increasingly historical technology at this point, sex, taboo, and the perversions of the human mind are timeless.)

Seth Price and Adrian Rew at Ukrainian National Home.

Afterwards, over a burger and drinks at Julius, Kye announced that he’d been issued his first credit card. “Those bitches weren’t going to give me one. What’re you supposed to do—you can’t get one because you’ve never had one?” A classic dilemma diagnosed by the “anti-psychiatry” psychiatrist R. D. Laing more than half a century ago, and symptomatic of the (art) world at large: You have not got it / therefore you do not deserve it / You do not deserve it / because you have not got it / You have not got it / because you do not deserve it / You do not deserve it / therefore you have not got it.

Later that night, with a slightly expanded contingent of Gen Z and louche internet personalities (Dimes Square models, podcast hosts, etc.), the same downtown crowd from Friday was reconvened for a party rumored to be a birthday bash for a certain former RFA artist. Despite the soft, romantic candles lighting up the house’s charming, creaky stories and tasteful art collection, there was little movement or flow to the night, which remained somehow starchy and awkward.

“You look bored,” Kye observed. “I know, because I often am too.”

And I was. It reminded me of a passage in Anaïs Nin’s diary in which she writes about acting out a party scene for a film by Maya Deren: “It remained empty and disconnected, a dance of shadows . . . It was all warm, but did not spring from a center of passion, remaining peripheral. And there, under the lights, I saw the drama of our present life: nothing big enough, deep enough, strong enough. How do you catch emptiness, or shallowness, ghostly figures who are erased on the screen as soon as they appear?”

Benjamin Buchloh at David Zwirner.