SO I SAID KENNY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?
HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY?
AND KENNY SAID “BILLY, I’M GOING FURTHEY DE
BY GOING FURTHEY DE
I LOOKED IN DISMAY AND SAID: YOU KNOW WHAT
KENNY SAID: UH HUH
WITH THAT HE SHOWED ME.
OCEAN PARK, CA
IN OUR STUDIO, 1959
(Billy Al Bengston, Venice, CA, 2015)
Franklin Parrasch and Christopher Heijnen are presenting Ken Price: A Career Survey, 1961 – 2008, the inaugural exhibition at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery (Los Angeles, January 30th – March 8th, 2016). It is both a stunning exhibition, airily installed, and a labor of love for Parrasch, who has followed Price’s career admiringly for decades. This is his 12th survey exhibition for the titan of contemporary ceramic art.
The exhibition of about 24 works, focusing on Price’s career in ceramic sculpture, began from a conversation Parrasch had with Price in 1991. Parrasch told Wallpaper magazine:
“Sometime in the 1990s I once told Ken, ‘You know, I have an idea for a show that I’ll do one day.’ This came up in the context of discussing the inter-relationship of this work and how understanding any one piece is best approached with an exposure to many of Ken’s works from all periods of his career. I have had in mind specific pieces that I’ve known of over the years and imagined how they might inform each other if they were ever to meet up in one room.”
Parrasch got the owners of the 24 sculptures to lend their pieces to the show honoring the L.A. artist. More of the gallery’s passion for the works comes through in their statement on the exhibition:
A legend amongst Los Angeles-based artists, Ken Price (1935-2012) is best known as a sculptor of abstract and sensual, biomorphic ceramic forms. The surfaces of Price’s objects, which involved chromatic techniques so complex and adroitly achieved that they exist only in his sculptures, are so jarringly compelling and uniquely beautiful they challenge the viewer’s concepts of beauty itself. His surfaces read like skins impregnated with color, generating chromatic tendencies that hearken everything from 1960s commercialism to otherworldly phenomena.
This exhibition of two dozen works spanning 1961-2008, is a select survey focusing exclusively on Price’s work in ceramic sculpture; included are key examples from throughout the artist’s career, all of which have been generously loaned from private collections. The timeline of works includes examples from Price’s first shows at the legendary Ferus Gallery (Los Angeles) in the early 1960s, and traces major shifts in the artist’s work up to 2008 shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. Their side-by-side relationships simultaneously illuminate Price’s breadth and consistency, revealing gestures and nuances that appear and reappear throughout various moments in his oeuvre.
Price worked in a number of series, employing distinct idioms throughout the course of his fifty-plus year career. While these distinct bodies of work may initially appear unrelated, upon extended gaze, aesthetic connections reveal a familial language that once imprinted, establishes a lens through which all of Price’s work can be absorbed. With this in mind, the works in this exhibition are displayed in groupings reflective of visual commonalities, avoiding chronological sequentiality. The selection of works as well as placement and exhibition design are respectful of Price’s intuitive approach and strident eschewal of conventions in both his creative process and the view he had of his work’s meaning.
A native Angelino and son of an inventor, Ken Price knew from childhood that he would be an artist. While still in high school, Price studied drawing in the early 1950s at the Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles (now California Institute of the Arts) on a scholarship. He enrolled in his first ceramics class at Santa Monica City College in 1953, and went on to earn his BFA in 1954 from the University of Southern California. Price then joined a class led by Peter Voulkos at the Los Angeles County Art Institute (renamed Otis Art Institute, and now Otis College of Art and Design). There he encountered an energy and sense of mastery working alongside Voulkos that was both liberating and profoundly demanding.
In 1958 Price headed east to complete his MFA at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. In a storage unit at Alfred, Price accessed a trove of ceramics by revolutionary twentieth century Japanese artist Kitaoji Rosanjin, who was, in Price’s words “a symbol for me of an artist making pottery.” Mining the spirit of Rosanjin, as well as Voulkos’ mantra “no rules no rules,” Price went on to generate an independent genre of refined, small-scale ceramic sculpture.
Price returned to Los Angeles in 1959 where he first established a studio in Ocean Park with close friend and fellow Otis classmate Billy Al Bengston. Later, Price maintained a studio in an historic building in Venice Beach. In 2002, Price and his family moved to Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico where he established what he blithely referred to as his “luxury studio.” Price died at his home in New Mexico in 2012 at the age of 77.
Over the past half-century, solo exhibitions of Price’s work have been presented in numerous museums and institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the Harwood Museum of Art (Taos), and the Chinati Foundation (Marfa), among others. In 1992, The Menil Collection (Houston) organized Price’s first major retrospective exhibition, curated by Walter Hopps, which traveled to the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis). In 2012, a comprehensive retrospective of Price’s work, curated by Stephanie Barron, was presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and traveled to the Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York). In 2013-14, Price’s drawings were the focus of a career survey exhibition entitled Slow and Steady Wins the Race, curated by Douglas Dreishpoon, which began at the Drawing Center(New York), then traveled to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo), and the Harwood Museum of Art (Taos).
Text (edited) and photographs courtesy of Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, Los Angeles.
What do you think of this survey of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.