The 10 steel sculptures in “Leverage,” Bret Price’s current exhibition (on view through September 2022), do 357 different things. I’ll outline two of them, leaving the rest—and maybe more—to your imagination. The first has to do with the setting at Pyramid Hill: more than 300 acres of undulating terrain crisscrossed by meandering pathways, paved lanes, and gently flowing streams, all surrounded by picturesque ponds, rocky outcroppings, beautiful meadows, and more foliage than my L.A. eyes are used to seeing. When I visited, the park was a rainbow of lush greens, its grassy expanses, casually manicured bushes, and sensibly unkempt forests forming a subtly tinted setting for Price’s industrial strength sculptures. What transpired overhead added to the drama: massive rainclouds rumbled along, their weighty grayness making the azure sky—and the sunshine itself—look especially bright. The contours of everything seemed sharper than usual, making you feel as if every blade of grass mattered and you were seeing the world for the first time.
Price’s abstract sculptures revel in their setting. Rather than treating the environment as a handsome backdrop against which they might strut their stuff, they go out of their way to make you pay attention to every detail in your visual field. Some, like Keyhole (2017), Revolution (2001), and Zig Zag (2011), do so directly—their bent lengths of metal form window-like openings (one square, one circular, and one triangular) that frame vistas both distant and nearby, sometimes extending to the horizon (and beyond) and sometimes focusing on particular arrangements of tree trunks, branches, and bushes, as well as swathes of sky (depending on where you stand, where you look, and where you move). Others, like Happenstance (2019), Oh Yeah (2004), and Love Struck (2020), engage their surroundings by punctuating space—their linear forms bounding, orbiting, and ricocheting around themselves to create such idiosyncratic nooks and crannies that it’s difficult to decide whether you should look at them or through them, or look through some to look at others and the landscape in which they stand. In every case, Price’s accommodating sculptures make room for viewers to experience art and nature as if they were two sides of the same coin: distinct from each other but united in their capacity to sharpen perceptions and deliver pleasures trivialized by words.
The second thing that Price’s sculptures do is get us to forget where we are. That may sound like the opposite of the first thing—heightening our awareness of our surroundings—but that’s the beauty of art: it does different things, often to different people, but sometimes to an individual. That’s when it’s most consequential—when it allows people not only to experience reality from more than one perspective, but also to understand that reality in more than one way, as a complex situation that merits complex—even contradictory—responses.
Price does this by letting us get lost in our experience of a single sculpture. That doesn’t happen by standing back and taking in an overall view of the whole. It happens when you focus on a detail—a particularly sensual crumple of a square conduit; a curiously organic crease of a round one, right where it whiplashes in another direction; a sexy curve of an I-beam, whose swooping movement is fluid, free of gridded rigidity; or the velvety shadows cast across sections by other sections, which create ever-changing compositions of a delicious mysteriousness. For me, the best moments are those when I can’t figure out where a beam goes when it disappears behind another part of itself. Range of Motion (2018) does that in spades. No matter where you stand, you feel as if you’re seeing a 70-foot-long I-beam playing hide-and-seek with itself—having a blast, completely capable of entertaining itself because it knows that selves are complex: multivalent and anything but homogeneous. Giant Step (1997), High Hopes (2004), and Crossroads (2019) do similar things. Neither tricking the eye nor reciting a narrative, they confound quick reads by making us spend time with them and quickly repay that effort with pleasures both physical and intellectual.
That’s the magic of Price’s art. Its animated forms take us far beyond the notion that a sculpture must choose between being autonomous or contextual, either about standalone singularity or site-specific surroundings. Price’s works, based in an ethos of both and inclusivity, beat such either/or exclusivities every day of the week, generously giving visitors lots to think about and even more to enjoy, over and over again.
“Leverage” coincides with Art Source Ohio’s inaugural exhibition, featuring work by Elizabeth Turk, Greg Price, Andy Light, and Bret Price, opening Saturday, May 21.