De Out and De In: Selected Passages from the Price Show Catalog

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The Ken Price show catalog is full of gems. Here are a few:

Price tended to progress in loose series. “It’s the most enjoyable way to work. It’s a lot more satisfying than taking a single piece to completion before you begin the next one…You get a lot more feedback, there are moments of linear progression that makes you think your work is improving.”

As Peter Schjeldahl notes, “It’s as if he crossed a bridge, and burned it, and then buried the river. His use of the ceramic vessel…doesn’t so much take off from the form’s history, as teach that history to mean something novel.”

“When my work is successful, there’s an organic fusion between the surface and the color.”

“I like to work in series or groups of work,” he would say. “I can learn where I’m going faster that way.”

As Price once said to Billy Al Bengston, in Price’s own patois, “I go de out by going de in.” This strategy reflects the accommodation made by Robert Irwin, Michael Heizer, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria to the difficulty of making sculpture in the American West—the problem being that the sky always wins, that the void invariably preempts the volume.

Price is less accessible as an artist because the contemporary art world, remodeled by public money, bad education, ill-gotten gains, and tax breaks for the rich—driven by fashion fantasies, gossip, auction scams, and raw box-office data—has virtually exploded…As a consequence, by tearing down the walls, we have, well, torn down the walls that provided a fragile refuge for civilizing endeavors like Price’s. We have ceded commentary and coverage to the blare of popular media—to the ad pages of theoretical magazines, to public museums, the popular press, the social media, and to universities, which Susan Sontag rather shrewdly observed are little more than pale appendages of popular culture.

Nuance, delicate or less so, is not much in vogue these days.

“I was in pursuit of my own direction and tried to resist hooking up with some movement as a way of getting attention for my work and being seen as cool and cutting edge. But I noticed those movements were coming and going kind of fast.”

Vija Celmins, in conversation with Ken Price: “I remember Brancusi said, ‘Art should be like a well planned crime.’ Which is to say that you don’t discuss it before, and you don’t talk much about it afterwards either.”

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1 comment

  1. miriam louisa simons’s avatar

    Strong words in those last four paras, D. They resonate deeply here.
    Yesterday I watched a brilliant doco on the British painter – stained glass artist Brian Clarke. His words are echoed here, in your own as well as those of Price and Celmins. “No compromise!”
    Thank you for another inspiring post – and for reinstating the “like” button!

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