LACMA launches Ken Price retrospective

Ken Price was one of the most exciting, rebellious and original sculptors of his generation, renowned for extolling the virtues of artistic avant-gardism by modifying the traditional ideas surrounding ceramics.
The inexhaustible artist is the subject of a major retrospective of his work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which features 100 of his most brightly hued ceramics. These bewitching objects narrate his early fixation with dazzling egg-shaped forms to his later interest in the equally vibrant lumpy, microorganism-like shapes.
Though Price passed away at the age of 77 in February of this year after a prolonged illness, he had been involved in organising the exhibition, and had contributed in every way conceivable to the design of the installation. This therefore makes for a doubly poignant show; all the more affecting given the artist did not live to see it himself.
“For more than fifty years, Los Angeles artist Ken Price made remarkable and innovative works that have challenged contemporary sculptural practice,” said Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at LACMA.
“It is only through assembling the entire range of his sculpture on the occasion of this retrospective – it has been twenty years since the last one – that we can see the essential unity of his sculptural practice – the connections that exist among different periods and styles. Price’s work commands a unique position somewhere between sculpture and painting.”
The purpose of the show is to shift the conversation from craftwork and into the framework of sculpture, and to achieve this, his prodigious works have been organised in reverse chronology.
Accordingly, the first of three galleries covers the artist’s swansong years from 2000 to 2011. This was a tremendously inventive period for the artist, seeing him shift to iridescent mottle compositions.
Around 70 layers of paint were applied to the foundation of the piece, which was then sanded away, revealing a sort of timeline akin to that found in sedimentary rocks.
The second gallery concentrates on the bulk of his career, from 1959 to 2000. Here the viewer is presented with Price’s multiple styles, from cups to eggs to more abstract mounds, all of which seemed to inspire another similar aesthetic, resulting in a series of works.
As for the last gallery, this is more out of time, exhibiting ceramics from his distinguished 1970s project Happy Curios, which sit against some of his absolute final sculptures. Though emphatically distinct, when placed together, a thematic lineage can be observed. Everything across his career can be summarised as being transcendental ceramics that celebrated the beauty of colour.
While the great American industrialist Henry Ford might famously have quipped “any colour, so long as it’s black”, Price’s maxim would invariably have to be “colour, colour, colour, any colour, so long as its colourful”.
As Ms Barron noted, so important was the finish to the ceramics, that beyond becoming sculpture, the ceramic pieces also purported to being 3D paintings, such was the attention given to the colour of any piece. It was here that Price defined himself as a pioneer: they had to be more than just structurally challenging, they had to be beyond classicism so to speak.
“The sculptures I saw in that show [at the Mizuno Gallery] stopped me, slowed me down, and I looked, really looked at the beautiful complexity of colour and texture and shape, shapes within shapes of these serious yet whimsical sculptures,” remembered the artist Doug Wheeler, who was invited by LACMA, along with other close friends and artists, to share his thoughts and memories of Price and his work.
“It was a transformational experience for me, and one that gave me the confidence to keep pursuing my course and permission to find some joy in the making.”
Price considered himself both a craftsman and artist, with both spheres as significant as the other. For him, the idea of craftwork was deliberate, the final object’s shape already known to him. With his art, this was more visceral, impulsive, and he could never truly know what strange and beguiling piece would emerge.
As always, they were something special.
Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective is at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until January 6th 2013.
Cadogan Tate is one of the most respected fine art transport companies in the world, specialising in shipping artwork in a safe and secure way.