Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2006
Los Angeles, Hammer Museum, Eden's Edge: Fifteen LA Artists, May - September 2007, pp. 23 and 124, no. 4, illustrated in colour
Ken Price was a central figure of the 1960s West Coast avant-garde. He had three shows at the celebrated Ferus Gallery in 1960, 1961, and 1964. He was a close peer of Ed Ruscha and Ed Kienholz and in 1966 in a LACMA catalogue essay, critic Lucy Lippard wrote that “no one else, on the east or west coast, is working like Kenneth Price” (Lucy Lippard cited in: Brian Boucher, ‘The Last Testament of Ken Price’, Art in America, 5 March 2013, online). However, following an encouraging first decade, Price spent much of his career on the fringes of the American zeitgeist; never again spoke about at the heart of the discourse, and not becoming the subject of top level museum acquisition and exhibition efforts until the final years of his life. This was partly to do with the nature of his art, for Price was a ceramicist more than a sculptor. Although he worked on paper for much of his life, he was a true devotee of his medium, and he was happy to devote as much energy to plates and teacups as he did to his sculptures; he viewed them all as part of his wide-ranging practice. In an art world dominated by Clement Greenberg’s high-minded theories, this allowed an ignorant minority to dismiss him as humble craftsman rather than noble aesthete. Perhaps because of this, Price was disillusioned by the institutions of the LA art scene and preferred to spend time up the coast surfing with good friend Dennis Hopper or, increasingly in the latter half of his life, in Taos, New Mexico, where he built a second home.
Both surfing and New Mexico had an impact on Price’s mature style. The extensive time he spent around the Californian surf scene helped him pioneer the unique technique he used to colour sculptures like Go-No-Go. Just as surfboards were made by laminated layers of coloured fibreglass, sanded into shape so that their edges betrayed seams of different hues, so too Price coloured his curved sculptures with hard thin layers of acrylic paint, that when sanded down produced the amazing effect of speckled polychromy that is so unique to his work. New Mexico was also hugely important to this artist. The spectacular geological formations provided precedent for the extraordinary shapes of his late sculpture. New Mexican pottery was also hugely influential; Price didn’t mind that it was inexpensive and designed for tourists, and took great creative succour from its bright colours and garishly painted Southwestern motifs.
This is not to say that Price worked in an outsiders vacuum, immune to the influence of the art-historical tradition. In his evocation of a sense of the uncanny and in the obfuscating cascading folds of his work, one can easily be reminded of the Surrealists. Works like Go-No-Go appear as if melting in the manner of Salvador Dalí’s clocks. Moreover, they are replete with overt sexual undertones. In the crevasses and folds of Price's sculptures, it is easy to infer phalluses, breasts, thigh clefts, and testicles. Just like the best practitioners of the Surrealist movement, he captures a sensuous mood without the inclusion of explicit imagery, playing on the blind associations of his viewers’ minds.
Ken Price wanted his sculptures to look like as if they were made from colour. This effect is admirably achieved in Go-No-Go, which droops down from a pointed apex in a bulging cantilevered cascade. It glistens and hovers, appearing at once unstable and in flux. It is directionless yet totally in the round; beguiling and resolved. It should be viewed as a premier example of the work made in the last ten years of Price’s life and a testament to the tenacity of his poetic vision.
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