Ken Price: Contemporary Voices
June 7 – October 23, 2019
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Starting this summer, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum presents the innovative sculptures and works on paper of acclaimed artist Ken Price in conversation with the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe as a part of the museum’s ongoing Contemporary Voices series. Price, originally an Angeleno, studied at Otis College of Art and Design and had early interests in Japanese ceramics and the folkware pottery he’d see on surfing trips to Mexico. From the very beginning, Price maintained an active exhibition schedule in Los Angeles at the legendary Ferus Gallery, and at one point met Marcel Duchamp, thanks to an introduction by Walter Hopps. The early ’70s marked Price’s move to Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, and a push into his Happy’s Curios installation series of bowls and vases covered with illustrations of skeletons, cacti, adobe structures, and other imagery that celebrated the Mexican potters who worked quickly and unsentimentally to fulfill the demands of a tourist market.
In the early ’80s, his process shifted from experimenting with glazing techniques to painting directly onto primed, fired clay. After firing, Price would then prime the ceramic sculptures with dozens of layers of acrylic paint before carefully dry-sanding back layers to reveal a dramatic technicolor blur that successfully merged color and structure. Price’s ceramics become erotic, protean shapes in constant motion with undulating liquid surfaces that barely hold form. Standing in front of psychedelic works like Pagan, I question gravity, as the forms, so otherworldly and weightless, free sculpture from the grounding force of architecture. Other ceramics from this time forward feature Price’s signature contrast of sharp, geometric cutouts into bulbous, amorphous masses. The high-key color reveal of sheared corners gives one the sense that the entire being (read: guts) of each object is composed of rich cadmium hues, pure color embodied.
The foundation of all of Price’s work lies with his drawing practice. The cosmology of Price’s works on paper includes preparatory drawings for sculptures, LA cityscapes, critiques of industry in nature, drawings of his sculptures embedded in desolate, rocky landscapes, and scenes of rural life in northern New Mexico—the latter of which are on display at the O’Keeffe Museum. Unifying features of the drawings are Price’s graphic, deliberate line work and dramatic washes of watercolor that suggest a roiling sunset on fire. My personal favorites are Price’s drawings of the ubiquitous manufactured homes that dot the ruggedly organic, high-desert landscape, which simultaneously pay tribute to a working class aesthetic and echo the contours of the geometric cutouts in his nebulous sculptures. For an artist whose ceramics often withhold meaning, much insight can be gained through his drawings.
Price’s Contemporary Voices exhibition features ten sculptures and a selection of works on paper that speak to his time lived in the high desert of New Mexico. The works are intermittently hung throughout the permanent galleries alongside landscapes, still-life paintings, and watercolors by O’Keeffe. The common thread of sensuality in reductive forms and the stark, expansive space of the high desert shared by both artists is noticeably elevated by the pairing. When does a highly palpable sensuality wash over into pure eroticism? The contrast between artists in their individual interpretations of New Mexican skies is worth the time to read and consider. Living at Ghost Ranch, I would often hike the red hills in the evening to stare at Cerro Pedernal and wonder how location would seep into O’Keeffe’s work. This show provides an answer and is a rare opportunity to see two American masters in an intimate dialogue of form, color, and space shaped by the geology, environment, and culture of Abiquiú and Arroyo Hondo.