Los Angeles-born sculptor Ken Price was one of the most influential artists of his time. At the young age of 28, he was recognized in an exhibition of "Fifty Young Artists" at the Whitney Museum, and in the '80s, art critics recognized him for his great ceramic pieces. Today, Price's work continues to redefine contemporary sculpture-making.
To celebrate "Ken Price: A Retrospective," the Nasher Sculpture Center recently hosted two preview parties: one for VIP patrons and another members event on opening night. In attendance was exhibition curator Stephanie Barron of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), who helped with the exhibit for LACMA, the Nasher and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"[The exhibit] is like being in a jewel box," said Barron, who worked with the artist until his last breath. The retrospective includes 85 sculptures and 11 works on paper from Price's life-long repertoire. Older works, including his famous "Happy's Curios," are displayed downstairs, while more recent works take over the main galleries on the first floor.
Art enthusiasts —including Cindy Rachofsky, Jennifer and John Eagle, Capera Ryan, Neal Johnston, Katie Bracht, Amanda and Kyle Steed, Harry Friedman, Nasher director Jeremy Strick, Jacqueline Tran, and Greg Sobotka — weaved their way around the works, which range from recognizable ceramics to more abstract, globular forms. Price layered paint on a rough clay surface, then sanded it down to reveal the colorful layers underneath. He employed the same technique on bronze, much of it larger in scale.
"Robert Irwin [renowned California painter and installation artist] said that Price understood color like a painter did," Barron said. "He had an astonishing marriage of color and form. If you sliced them in half, you'd expect the color to run through [the sculptures]."
Esteemed architect and longtime friend of Price’s Frank O. Gehry — they were students at USC together in the late '50s — helped with the installation at all three venues. Barron explained that there are many challenges in displaying the small scaled art, like figuring out how to protect them without plastic display cases, which Price hated.
The installation was a labor of love and took almost three years to complete — enough time to design an entire building. Gehry flew the models to Taos, where Price spent the last years of his life, and together they discussed the specifications. "Watching these two as friends was amazing," Barron said. "And it all came together in a show."
Unfortunately, Price didn’t live to see his retrospective. But, Barron said, "[His] work is about a celebration of beauty and form that just makes you smile."
If the faces in the crowd were any indication, this very special exhibit does just that.
"Ken Price: A Retrospective" is on display at the Nasher Sculpture Center through May 12.