October 11, 2015


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Lot 176: Ken Price

Lot 176: Ken Price

Up Back

Fired and painted clay
10.5" x 11" x 9.75"
Provenance: Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist, 2005)
Estimate: $150,000 - $200,000
Price Realized: $168,750
Inventory Id: 20175

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Central to the California Clay Movement, Ken Price (1935-2012) was one of the Los Angeles artists whose experimentation in ceramic sculpture revolutionized the medium to high art. During a brief time at the Otis College of Art and Design (then the Los Angeles County Art Institute), Price studied under Peter Voulkos. The "hero of American ceramics" (according to Price), who championed abstract sculpture, was a significant influence. At a young age, Price established himself in the emerging art scene with solo shows at the famed Ferus Gallery, in the company of artists and friends such as Billy Al Bengston and Robert Irwin. Early works included fanciful drinking vessels and plates; along with nonfunctional items–sculptures in organic shapes–"eggs," "mounds," and "blobs." Critic Lucy R. Lippard deemed them as having both surrealist and naturalist tendencies. Price said they reminded him of "mountain peaks, breasts, eggs, worms, worm trails, the damp undersides of things, intestines, veins and the like."

His early pieces were glazed, however, the artist used acrylic paints from 1983 onward. By 2000 Price was making rounded forms, like Up Back, often labeled "biomorphic" or "organic;" seemingly abstract "creatures" that might crawl away. He used color as a medium saying, "I wanted them to look like they were sort of made out of color." Price developed a laborious technique resulting in these lavishly multi-colored shapes, mottled, and reminiscent of Murano glass. The ceramics were fired, then layers upon layers of acrylic paint were applied. Price sanded the surface to reveal spots of the various colors underneath. Though the surface looks rough and pockmarked, it is actually smooth.

Up Back, on the market for the first time since it was made in 2000, is similar to many of the biomorphic sculptures from the 2000s prominently featured in Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, held September 16, 2012–January 6, 2013. The artist was in poor health as his retrospective was being organized. In anticipation of this honor, rather than continue to receive medical treatment, he devoted his remaining time to creating work and preparing for the exhibition. Ken Price died on February 24, 2012. After its debut at LACMA, Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective traveled to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, and New York,s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Barron, Stephanie. "Lumps, Bumps, Grooves, and Curves: Fifty Years of Ken Price Sculpture." Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective. By Stephanie Barron. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2012. 17, 31, and 34. Print. Boucher, Brian. "The Last Testament of Ken Price." Art in America, 7 March 2013. Web. 22 July 2015. Smith, Roberta. "Ken Price, Sculptor Whose Artworks Helped Elevate Ceramics, Dies at 77. " Art & Design sec. The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 22 July 2015 Tuchman, Phyllis. "Color Me Sculpture." Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective. By Stephanie Barron. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2012. 171. Print.