Ken Price: Sculptor at LACMA

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Ken Price, who died at 77 last winter, was among the determinedly original artists who showed at Ferus gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in the early 60's. He grew up in Pacific Palisades and was an avid surfer, which might come to mind as you look at his voluptuous, organic sculptures looking like underwater sea creatures or even, in their iridescent surfaces, even the water itself.

Ken Price, L. Blue, 1961
Ceramic painted with lacquer and acrylic on wood base; 6" x 9" x 5"
Ken Price
© Ken Price. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen

Trained as a ceramicist, Price refused to be limited by traditional uses of clay, mentored by the great Peter Voulkos. He said that the word craft was a verb, not a noun. It is fitting that his retrospective should be at LACMA since he was also one of the first contemporary artists given a show there after the museum opened in 1965. This homecoming, as it were, was made clear by the emotional memorial service held before the opening last night with artists Ed Ruscha, Tony Berlant, Vija Celmins and architect Frank Gehry. All were close friends of Price, and Gehry transformed the open Resnick Pavilion with white walls and pedestals that accentuate the best qualities of Price's modestly scaled works.


Ken Price, Zizi, 2011
Acrylic on fired ceramic; 16 1/2" x 24
x 17" Los Angeles County Museum of Art
© Ken Price. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen

Senior curator Stephanie Barron, who organized the show, made the unusual decision to mount the late, most dramatic work in the first galleries. Price himself was excited about his later work and even during the last years of his life, after retiring to his Taos, New Mexico studio while fighting cancer, he called it his "golden period." "I have the technical facility to accommodate ideas right away. I used to call it the highway to the unconscious. And that's where I like to be, in that place where you're open, your mind goes quiet, and before long all kinds of possibilities come."


Ken Price, Big Load, 1988
Fired and painted clay; 12 1/2" x 15 1/2" x 17"
Stephane Janssen, Arizona
© Ken Price. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen

A final compliment to the artist's talent and legacy is that after the show closes on January 6, 2013, it travels to the Nasher Sculpture Center and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. For more information, go to

Banner image:Ken Price's Echo, 1997; Acrylic on ceramic; 12 x 26 1/2 x 17 3/4 in (30.48 x 67.31 x 45.09 cm); Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  © Ken Price. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen