Critics’ Picks

Ken Price, Small Is Beautiful, 2002, acrylic and ink on paper, 10 1/8 x 12 7/8".

New York

Ken Price

The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
June 19–August 18

My hope is that Ken Price spent the majority of his life as a very happy man. Though his last few years, plagued by throat and tongue cancer, were surely his darkest, he still managed until his death in 2012 to create a kind of artwork that is in short supply these days: exquisitely conceived and unabashedly joyous.

Ken Price: Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962–2010” is a survey of his relatively small-scale drawings, which, over the years, were created right in tandem with his modestly sized ceramics, but only recently have been receiving the kind of attention they so rightly deserve. Price’s two-dimensional works were not merely preparatory guides for his sculptures, though a number of those studies are on view. Many of them feel like scenic backdrops for the ceramics—pictures from a Pop universe that’s been shot through with the formal configurations of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy and Japanese ukiyo-e art as well as the upbeat, sunshiny surreality of 1960s California. And, unlike practically all of Price’s sculptures, the drawings are mostly representational, a contrast to the polymorphous abstraction of his ceramics.

Many of the drawings exist within the realm of landscape, whether natural or man-made. Some of my favorites: the atmospherically odd, sparsely furnished, caged-in sitting room of Untitled from 1992; Dangerously Clean Water from 1993, a dusky scene of a smoky, dirty factory on the water that looks like an updated coloring-book version of Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, 1880; and Wild About Sculpture from 2003, which shows a nude woman sitting between two gigantic, speckled Pricean blobs on a ginger-pink beach. But perhaps the work that sums up this exhibition most succinctly—and really, Price’s singular oeuvre—is a tenderly illustrated acrylic and ink drawing of a crashing ocean wave, Small Is Beautiful, 2002, which pays homage to Hokusai. The sentiment is pure Price, and a welcome antithesis to so much of the steroidal, stupid, bigger-is-better contemporary art that encroaches upon our psychic and physical spaces far too often.