Ken Price, colour and form at Hauser& Wirth London

By Aina Pomar - Thursday, January 12, 2017
Ken Price, colour and form at Hauser& Wirth London

Hauser&Wirth, London is currently presenting the exhibition Ken Price. A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959-2006, a major retrospective of the American artist including over 180 works. This large-scale show spans both gallery spaces in Mayfair and is a rare opportunity to see Ken Price’s paper—bound works in as much depth as the sculptures themselves, making evident the dialogues established with one another.

Ken Price, colour and form at Hauser& Wirth London

Hauser&Wirth, London is currently presenting the exhibition Ken Price. A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959-2006, a major retrospective of the American artist including over 180 works. This large-scale show spans both gallery spaces in Mayfair and is a rare opportunity to see Ken Price’s paper—bound works in as much depth as the sculptures themselves, making evident the dialogues established with one another.

The first space presents a chronological survey of cups and drawings that offer a thorough overview of Ken Price’s artistic evolution. The show begins with his early 1960’s ceramic cups mainly inspired by a trip to Japan, as well as by his teacher, the Abstract Expressionist artist Peter Voulkos. Works like Round Snail Cup (1968) originate form this period. In this piece Price combined small circular objects with organic and natural elements.

The show makes the crucial impact of his native city of Los Angeles evident. We also see the clear influence of his on-and-off home in Taos, New Mexico. The atmosphere of the West Coast, the surf and car culture and, particularly, his conversations with peer artist friends like Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, Edward Keinholz, John Altoon, Wallace Berman and Billy Al Bengston shaped his style from an early age.  His willingness to experiment, jointly with a prolific practice and what we could call a “free spirit”, made him one of the most important contributors to the reconciliation of functionality and sculpture in ceramic art.

Installation view, 'Ken Price: A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959 – 2006', Hauser & Wirth London, 2016 © Estate of Ken Price. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Installation view, 'Ken Price: A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959 – 2006', Hauser & Wirth London, 2016 © Estate of Ken Price. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Ken Price, Pastel, 1995. Acrylic on ceramic. 36.8 x 38.1 x 35.6 cm / 14 1/2 x 15 x 14 in © Estate of Ken Price, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Ken Price, The Lug, 1988. Fired and painted ceramic. 22.9 x 30.5 x 21.6 cm / 9 x 12 x 8 1/2 in. © Estate of Ken Price, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Ken Price, Untitled, 1968 – 1969. Glazed ceramic. 8.3 x 15.2 x 8.9 cm / 3 1/4 x 6 x 3 1/2 in © Estate of Ken Price, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

After moving to Taos in 1971 he began to incorporate indigenous motifs and techniques that he learnt from local craftsmen. Curator Paul Schimmel (also Price’s long term friend) defines these years as a period of creation and procreation, both referring to his family life and ceaseless artistic production, creating iconic series like Happy’s Curious, named for his wife.

The dialogue established between the works on paper and the sculptures moves from drawings in strict relationship to the cups, like preparatory sketches, to more analytical drawings that stand on their own and show Price’s studies of textures, shapes and colours. These drawings reflect on his frustration and fantasies, his ambition to innovate and his state of mind in the creative process. “You can do something in the simplest way in one material and it becomes utterly impossible to realize in another material” says Paul Schimmel, “That’s one of the interesting dialogues between the objects and the drawings. The objects can do things that the works on paper can’t and vice versa”.

The last room of the first gallery shows a body of work produced in the 1990’s, a bleak view of Los Angeles that gives us an idea of his empathy for ecological movements. In a way, there is a correspondence between the fragility of the materials and the representation of urban landscapes full of smoke and pollution.

Installation view, 'Ken Price: A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959 – 2006', Hauser & Wirth London, 2016 © Estate of Ken Price. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Ken Price, Security, Domesticality, Leisure, 1994. Acrylic and ink on paper. 35.7 x 29.8 cm / 14 x 11 3/4 in © Estate of Ken Price, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, 'Ken Price: A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959 – 2006', Hauser & Wirth London, 2016 © Estate of Ken Price. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Installation view, 'Ken Price: A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959 – 2006', Hauser & Wirth London, 2016 © Estate of Ken Price. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Erotic elements prevail in almost the entirety of the exhibition, being manifested through abstract phallic forms and the integration of the void in his pieces. This gains a more graphic exposure in a selection of works created in the late 70’s and 80’s that integrate the aesthetics of exaggerated exoticism and take the form of touristic souvenir-like objects, almost reminiscent of a recycled 20th Century West Coast version of Paul Gauguin. But there is also something erotic in the freedom expressed through his ceramics and in the potent combination of colours that attract the viewer to get closer to the work, to their skin and textures.

These elements are particularly visible in the second gallery, where emblematic and colourful works are displayed in a four-by-four wooden plinth, perhaps lacking certain playfulness, but true to Ken Price’s idea of how his works should be presented. Each work offers a better appreciation of his technique: the glazing, the careful carving challenging the resistance of materials, the meticulous sanding to unveil the different layers of bright colours and the texturized finish.

Some of the early works in this room helped him to gain recognition worldwide, first by getting into Ferus Gallery - an emblematic space of the pop art movement founded by curator Walter Hopps and artist Edward Kienholz – and then into other major galleries and museums.

Ken Price’s ceramic sculptures and drawings arrive in London at an unarguably relevant moment. The current resurrection of ceramics and pottery in a country with a large tradition has, once again, resonated with numerous galleries. Ahead of another significant show exploring this area, That continuous thing: Artists and Ceramic studio 1920- Today, opening next March at Tate St Yves (which will present other works by Price), the Hauser&Wirth’s exhibition takes a look back and reflects on the large heritage of one of the big names of ceramic art and its influence on contemporary artists.

Ken Price, Taos Studio, New Mexico, 2004. Photo: Happy Price. Courtesy Ken Price Studio

Ken Price. A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings. Editor: Paul Schimmel. Texts by Paul Schimmel and Sam Thorne. Book design: Catherine Lorenz. Language: English. Hardcover. 280 x 240 mm. 144 pages. Co-published with DelMonico Books / Prestel. 978 3 7913 5613 6. December 2016. £40 / $60. Photo: Peter Abrahams

Ken Price. A Survey of Sculptures and Drawings, 1959-2006, at Hauser&Wirth until 4 February 2017

Aina Pomar graduated in Sociology and Photography before completing a Master in New Media Art Curatorship. She has collaborated with Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Majorca and with CCCBLab and Fundació Foto Colectania in Barcelona. She moved to London to work at the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain, where she coordinated visual arts and exhibition projects with the aim of promoting Spanish culture and artists across the United Kingdom. She currently collaborates with various galleries and art projects in London.

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Yves Klein, IKB Godet, 1958, dry pigment, synthetic resin on gauze on panel. Private collection. ©Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Yves Klein, IKB Godet, 1958, dry pigment, synthetic resin on gauze on panel. Private collection. ©Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

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