Artist presents mash-up of potato imagery and iconography in Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO EEAC artist-in-residence Jeffrey Allen Price in the Potato Institute installation he created from his collection of potato memorabilia in the storefront of 127 East Main Street.

East End Arts Council artist-in-residence Jeffrey Allen Price has transformed a storefront at 127 East Main St. in Riverhead into an installation called The Potato Institute.

A conglomeration of all things potato, the show, entitled ‘Think Potato,’ was born in 1996 out of a collection of spud memorabilia including such arcana as Mr. Potato Head toys, posters, paintings and potato chip containers. Mr. Price’s work takes many forms — painting, prints, assemblage, sculpture, video and performance — and is often humorous and playful, with multi-layered meanings.

The following is an excerpt from our interview with Mr. Price this week.

Q: Why potatoes?

A: This is the first question everyone asks me. In 1995, I became a vegetarian and realized I wasn’t a meat-and-potato type of guy. I’m a potato-and-potato type of guy. I’m not really obsessed with potatoes and I didn’t grow up on a potato field. But I work with potatoes because it connects to so many people — all walks of life have a connection to potatoes and it draws people in. I wanted to make art that would have a positive outcome.

Q: When did you start collecting potato memorabilia?

A: In 1996, I had a potato party at my house in Springfield, Mo., and invited all of my artist friends because I knew they would do something creative. The next year, I took the party to a local park. The turnout was great. At our third party we had about 100 people show up. That’s when it started to live up to my expectations. It stems from the concept of social sculpting — instead of sculpting clay you sculpt society. We had potato art and potato history discussions, but the potato festival also included a food drive and the homeless were invited into the community.

Q: Which is your favorite Mr. Potato Head toy?

A: I have to say, Mr. Potato Head, in general, is my least favorite because he’s made of plastic and he’s a consumerism tool. I do love the idea of the original Mr. Potato Head. It involved you purchasing the plastic pieces, but you would supply your own real potato. What’s cool about Mr. Potato Head is that he’s a pop culture icon. In my work, I try to raise questions and critique consumerism. I do have him here and I love how it draws kids in, who I hope learn something and I hope they can teach me something, too.

Q: What’s your most eccentric piece of potato art?

A: Probably my favorite piece, which is a video I made in 2003 while I was in grad school at Stony Brook University. It’s just my face and I repeat the word “potato” for an hour. I know it’s ridiculous, but at the same time it’s meditative. The potato has guided me in so many ways.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a new video were I say the word “potato” in 30 different languages. I have ongoing projects related to earthy ideas. One of my goals is to have a potato festival in Central Park. In the short term, I’m very proud of the Potato Institute. Here we used an empty store in Riverhead and transformed it into something that feels good and warm. Riverhead has the last stronghold potato farms around. I could just make paintings, but my real goal is to connect with people, to learn, to think and to share.

For more information visit www.jeffreyallenprice.com.

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