Ken Price

by Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ken Price is one of the most important sculptors to have emerged in Los Angeles in the past 50 years. Born in Los Angeles in 1935, Price grew up near the beach and spent his adolescence surfing nearly every day. The son and grandson of inventors, he was raised in an environment that encouraged his creative interests, leading Price to identify as an artist from an early age.

Price received a B.F.A. from the University of Southern California in 1956 and studied briefly with Peter Voulkos at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design) before receiving an M.F.A. from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred in 1959. Returning to Los Angeles, Price joined the stable of artists at the legendary Ferus Gallery, quickly establishing himself with several successful solo exhibitions.

As Peter Schjeldahl noted in an article for the New Yorker, Price’s development as an artist has always been on his own terms:

Price emerged in the 1960s as the brilliantly contrary student of Peter Voulkos…Price eschewed Voulkos’s virile expansiveness to work small, making exquisite egg shapes that sprout erotic, worrisome tendrils. He proceeded to develop abstract variations on cup, teapot, and vase forms with faceted asymmetrical compositions, glazed with primary colors, that are like pocket distillations—which turn monumental in memory—of modern style from cubism through De Stijl to minimalism.

Price also steadfastly refused to illuminate the meaning of his work, preferring instead to allow the art to speak for itself. At a talk he gave in 2005 at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, Price was quoted saying, “I can’t prove my art’s any good or that it means what I say it means. And nothing I say can improve the way it looks.”

Price’s meticulous approach to object-making and his penchant for vibrant colors and unorthodox application methods marks him as a seminal Los Angeles artist, alongside Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell and Craig Kauffman.

First recognized in the early 1960s for his series of Eggs, described by Roberta Smith for the New York Times as “intensely colored ovoids punctuated with small openings from which slimy-looking forms might protrude, suggesting fingers, phalluses, worms or perhaps entrails,” his subsequent work demonstrated both diversity of style and fidelity to his artistic principles.

Although Price’s work may not adhere to the common stereotypes held about modern sculpture—that it should be large-scale, industrial and muted in color—his artwork nevertheless occupies an important place in art history. Peter Plagens, writing for the Wall Street Journal, illustrated Price’s distinction when he wrote, “the art of Ken Price is a lively link between the austerity of Minimalism (he never wasted a curve or a color) and the inclusiveness of postmodernism (his work can remind you of everything from Constantin Brancusi to American Indians to Japanese woodblocks), proving that in art there are no real ruptures, only intriguingly disguised continuities.”

Ken Price died on February 24, 2012, at his home in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, just outside of Taos. He has exhibited widely and has work in many public collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Ken Price was featured in several Getty-sponsored “Pacific Standard Time” exhibitions in 2011-2012. At the time of his death, Price was working on a 50-year retrospective of his work for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective” will run at LACMASeptember 6, 2012 – January 6, 2013, after which time it will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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