Taos artist Ken Price celebrated at The Met

The late Taos artist Ken Price made art history when a retrospective of his 50-year career ...

Yvonne Pesquera
Posted 6/28/13

NEW YORK CITY — The late Taos artist Ken Price made art history on June 18 when a retrospective of his 50-year career in contemporary ceramic sculpture opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

To be clear, the Met does have other …

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Taos artist Ken Price celebrated at The Met

The late Taos artist Ken Price made art history when a retrospective of his 50-year career ...

Posted

NEW YORK CITY — The late Taos artist Ken Price made art history on June 18 when a retrospective of his 50-year career in contemporary ceramic sculpture opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

To be clear, the Met does have other Taos artists in their permanent collection, such as Taos Society of Artists Founders Ernest Blumenschein, Joseph H. Sharp, and E. Irving Couse. But this is the first time in the Metropolitan’s history that a full-scale solo exhibit has been staged for a Taos artist.

“What contemporary artists love about showing at the Met is that you become a part of art history,” says Marla Prather, Met curator of contemporary art. “Yes, you can be at the Whitney and the Guggenheim, and those are all great. But here, your work is alongside 5,000 years of art history.”

Indeed, just steps from Price’s works are ceramics from Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. So, for the average 6.2 million visitors who pass through the Met doors, they are able to view the evolution of ceramic cups — from some dating back to 3,700 B.C. — all the way up to Price’s whimsical and wholly original “Cups” (1960s-70s).

Prather explains that the Met is special because it has so much to offer artists who go there to learn. “I’ve seen a picture of Ken and Happy taken here at the Temple of Dendur. And I wonder what he learned during that visit looking at ancient ceramics.”         

The Met show, titled “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,” is the final stop in a year-long tour that debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and traveled to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. But this summer in New York is a double-header for Price: An additional body of his drawings are simultaneously appearing at the Drawing Center in SoHo.

Price’s show was designed by long-time friend and world-famous architect, Frank Gehry. Sixty-two sculptures, ranging in size from the hand-held to four feet, are well-lit and laid out in chronological order along a 60-foot long gallery space. Viewers can enter the gallery from either of its two ends, to start with the early or later works.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, and having spent his seminal creative years there, Price is largely considered an L.A. artist in the art world. But he lived and worked in Taos, and it is where he died on Feb. 24, 2012. To all who knew him locally, he was a cherished friend and a beloved member of the community. And in the context of Price’s career, Taos is an important chapter. He created new works and branched out in bold directions — influenced by the unique natural setting of Taos.

Price is highly regarded in the New York art world. He has shown at the Whitney Biennial and has been represented by the galleries of Brooke Alexander and Matthew Marks, among others.

In a curator lecture open only to Met members, Prather points out that Price’s stature is indisputable. “Price helped to redefine the nature of contemporary sculpture. His works are not made on a wheel, but built up like a structure in the constructivist tradition.” Noting the vagaries of kiln firing, she muses, “I wonder how many of his works got destroyed mid-process.”

Sitting under the same roof as classical Rembrandts, Michaelangelos, and Vemeers, Price’s contemporary pieces may look out of place to some — like blobs, lumps, and mounds. But even a casual observer can appreciate the technical proficiency Price had with clay.

Abstract work can be hard to relate to. A viewer’s first instinct is to derive “meaning.” But the appeal of Price’s sculptures is that so many different associations can be made with the bright colors and odd shapes (that range from the biomorphic to the geometric).

Several of Price’s collectors attended the curator lecture and Prather called them “a special breed because they can never have just one of Ken’s works.”

In fact, prominent collector Linda Schlenger (who owns 18 Price sculptures) says, “I have never been to an art opening like Price’s before. It didn’t feel like a museum because there were so many family members, friends, and other artists there.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the most prestigious art institution in the world. When asked about this tremendous accomplishment for his father, Jackson Price says, “It’s almost like someone from your town becoming a pro athlete — it makes you proud.”

The exhibition will remain on view through Sept. 22.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located at 1000 Fifth Ave. in New York City, N.Y. For more on the exhibition, visit metmuseum.org.

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