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Ken Price at the Met
Beauty Without Bravado

Sarah Bochicchio

21 June 2013

Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective opened this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is the first major museum exhibition of Price’s works in New York. Organized reverse chronologically, the exhibit is one of rediscovery and makes Price’s works all the more powerful.

During his five-decade long career, Price (1935-2012) redefined the use of clay in sculpture and broke the traditional mould in which ceramics existed. Price sought to push the limits of ceramics as “utilitarian” and purely functional pieces and bring them into a more intimate, yet conceptual space. Price once said, “The cup essentially presents a set of formal restrictions—sort of preordained structure…but it can be used as a vehicle for ideas.” To combat convention, Price attached his cup to a ceramic sea turtle’s shell and added snails to others.

16 ½ x 24 x 17 inches

Additionally, Price revolutionized the actual process of making ceramics. Over the years, he refined a technique in which denatured alcohol is rubbed across painted surfaces. The surfaces are then sanded down. Price could begin with as many as 70 layers of paint only to sand them and build them up again. This very involved process produces surprising, yet expressive alterations in color, which can be seen in works such as Moose the Mooch (1998) and Sweet Paste (1994).

Despite this, Price was most inspired by drawing. For him, to draw and listen to jazz was to know true pleasure for, “[his] happiest day [was] when [he had] no business, visitors, or phone and [could] draw.” Interestingly enough, the first art class that Price ever took was in drawing and cartooning. In the exhibit, one can see his drawings of the New Mexico landscape, a region that had such a profound effect upon him. Some of the drawings, such as The Hermit’s Cave in Winter (2008) seem to have the effect of a Japanese print.

Fired and painted clay

Frank Gehry, who designed the installation with a little help from Price, reminded us of the power of Price’s work. He said it has, “a sense of clarity and an unself-conscious sense of humor. It speaks of volumes; it speaks of pleasure and love, and speaks of beauty without bravado.”

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