Ken Price is infringing my copyright. You are requested to cease and desist http://www.infringedcopyright.com Thank You.
By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
When she installed LACMA's current exhibition, "Ken Price: A Retrospective," curator Stephanie Barron placed Ken Price's newest work in the first and last galleries. This isn't typical. Often, retrospectives start at the beginning of an artist's career, or in the middle, with whichever work happens to be most iconic.
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But Price, who in the late 1950s fell in with the Ferus Gallery crowd now known as L.A.'s first art avant-garde, was making strange, sexy, alienlike sculptures in the last two decades of his career, forms as visceral and memorable as anything he'd done before. Hunchback of Venice (2000) has a wonky, curved, orange-on-green back and fluorescent purple underbelly you have to lean over to see. OG (2008) is a roly-poly amalgam of breastlike protrusions.
Price would build up clay forms like these, firing them up to 20 times each. He had stopped using glaze in the 1980s and would instead paint the surfaces with layer upon layer of acrylic before working back into the color with rubbing alcohol or wet sand paper, making it look as if paint had eroded in places. Finally, with a Q-tip, he would add new, bright colors into those eroded spots, giving his sculptures meticulously mottled, multicolored skins.
In a 2007 interview with his friend, artist Vija Celmins, Price said he had entered a "great period," one in which his process came easily to him. He had a fast-track pass to the "highway of the unconscious."
Leeds-born, L.A.-based artist Thomas Houseago gave a talk on Sept. 27 about the show, saying he had wandered into Price's "weird trip" when he first entered the exhibition. He sounded awed. "They seem timeless," he said of Price's sculptures. "They seem almost terrifyingly modern."
What is it that makes this largely historical show of an artist who began working 50 years ago feel so intensely present?
When Price died in February at 77 from cancer, critic Dave Hickey eulogized him in the L.A. Times: "Kenny is one of the three people I've ever known who really didn't give a [damn]," he said. (The others were Waylon Jennings and Dean Martin.) According to Hickey, Price didn't have anything to prove and didn't worry about where he fit into history.
Above-the-fray praise like this sounds inflated. But it's one of the only convincing explanations for why Price's art kept all its liveliness as decades wore on — that, and the fact that Price made art to live with rather than exhibit or admire from afar. Close reads of a few specific works, from his cup phase to his scraggy landscapes and sexy aliens, suggest that both these factors are in play.
Reptile and racer cups
The night Price's retrospective opened, LACMA hosted a memorial, or "Celebration of a Life," where painter Ed Ruscha joked about titles of reviews in Price's bibliography (e.g., "The Price Is Right"), and sculptor Ron Nagle talked about the night he was certain his wife had fallen for Price. When Celmins spoke, she made it clear from the outset that Price's involvement with the Ferus crew never impressed her. What did impress her was walking into Riko Mizuno's gallery on La Cienega circa 1970 and seeing a cup Price had made resting on the back of a ceramic turtle, set in a custom-made, sand-filled wood box.
That seemed ballsy to her. While other artists of Price's cohort were making fetish-finish paintings out of plastics, or flat, slick renderings of iconic buildings on fire, Price was attaching reptiles to tiny cups. Celmins asked him about them in 2007, but Price had trouble remembering exactly why he'd started making these reptile cups, four of which are in the LACMA show. "I think my plain cups probably needed some extra zip," he told her.
A few years before his interview with Celmins, Price described cups in general as "a real kind of primal idiom ... it's right in your hand and you actually put it in your mouth and drink warm liquid from it."
Joan Quinn and her husband, Jack, collectors of Price's work and his friend (Joan met the artist when both were enrolled at USC and bought her first Price sculpture at a student sale), never drank out of the cups they own, though Joan Quinn is fairly certain Price meant them to.
One of the cups they lent to the exhibition, Chevrolet Brothers (1960), has a pink base with a red flag painted up its side and a green top with "4" written on it. Quinn's father promoted races, and she often took Price and other artists with her to the Ascot and Gardena speedways. For her, this sculpture is like a memory. "It was a connection to racing when we bought it," she recalls. It sits in a custom-built box, "locked into space," as Quinn puts it, with vintage images of race cars and their drivers collaged on its sides.
The Quinns also own a few of the scraggy and smooth, tiered, landscapelike abstractions Price began making in the 1970s, after he'd lived for a while in New Mexico (he would move back to L.A. and live in Massachusetts briefly but ultimately settle in Taos) and been inspired by the rock faces and the iridescent sunsets. "We sometimes turn them one way or another but mostly walk around them to get the true flavor," says Joan Quinn of the "geometric beauties" usually on display in her living room.
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