Los Angeles

Ken Price

Ken Price’s high-polish, bold-color, lumpy organic forms are often discussed in one of two ways. The first involves how his work straddles the categories of art and craft—a conundrum that should remain mostly of interest to librarians who have to decide where to shelve his catalogues. The other goes something along the lines of “I like it, but I don’t know why,” usually uttered with a hint of naughtiness—the critical equivalent of sneaking a cigarette at a health spa.

If Price’s recent works do anything for the art-versus-craft discussion, I hope it will be to put one more nail in its coffin, as these mostly acrylic-painted ceramic forms clearly inspire more interesting considerations than the question of whether hang-ups about form, function, and material justify calling them sculpture or pottery. (Price’s forays into bronze don’t help with the clay-equals-craft equation either.) As for the coy claims of liking Price’s works for mysterious reasons, this take would seem to have more to do with the art-world rule that while you’re supposed to know why you like a work, it’s better to like something for phantom reasons than for unfashionable ones. I can say this because it was on entering his latest show that I was more aware than ever that I liked Price’s works and I did know why.

I like Price’s new amoebic, mono-orificed, subtly multihued, lustrously finished, and unapologetically meant-for-pedestals objects probably for the same reasons I enjoyed Price’s early lacquer-on-ceramic egg forms when I first encountered them. It’s hard to tell whether Half Mast, 1999, a shape somewhere between a slumped vase and a soft phallus, is rising off the mat or going down for the count. Like many of his works, it shows no evidence of aspiring to heroics or antiheroics yet manages to suggest both and is sensual in ways that invite simultaneously sacred and profane associations. The floundering, gelatinous Flatso, 1999, is undeniably lovely, formally intriguing (though not caught up in formalism), and I want to pick it up. I can take The Magic Thumb, 1995–99, a mass of bulges resembling a bell pepper on steroids, dead seriously or with a smirk, while it appears to presume neither its own seriousness nor its own wit. The glitzy, fleshy Pink Pearl, 1999, exemplifies how Price’s sculptures are all surface and all substance at the same time.

I also like these new works because I see them as a healthy prescription: They are likable for reasons art shouldn’t be in the age of the dematerialization of the art object. In fact, Price’s objects are likable in a time when it would seem art is not so much supposed to be liked as understood. It’s refreshing to come away from a show with more of a feel for the work than a thesis about it.

Christopher Miles