Sitting on a white pedestal, the work of art looks more like a liquid squeezed out of a tube than a concrete sculpture.
In the all-white room, statues of a similar fashion stand atop individual pedestals, allowing museum visitors to take them in from all sides. These works come from the creative mind of recently deceased artist Ken Price and make up the current retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition presents his works from 1959 to 2011 in an impressive presentation of both his talent and his high standing in the art world.
Whether or not you recognize Price’s name, the exhibition manages to capture his chronological and artistic evolution. Each piece represents a distinct side of Price’s artistic imagination, and quotes from art figures, along with biographical information, help paint a more complete picture of Price that goes beyond the pieces in the show.
Though he died in February, Price worked with curator Stephanie Barron to plan the exhibition and agreed with her idea of presenting his work in an atypical order: starting with the newest pieces and ending with the oldest.
Architect Frank O. Gehry, a friend of Price, designed the space for the exhibition. Gehry, known for his alternative approaches to design, like taking inspiration from crumpled sheets of paper, didn’t just go about designing a plain space. Since Gehry owns a few selections of Price’s works, he decided to scan one work to see what it looks like inside and — voilà — it served as inspiration for the show’s interior.
When viewers enter the exhibit, the white walls might seem conventional, but the show manages to keep a variety of spaces open for easy roaming. Pedestals hold comfortably sized pieces while large-scale pieces get entire rooms to themselves. Two small corner-like rooms hold pieces similar to the Mexican pottery Price appreciated. The works stand behind a wooden fence, recalling a rustic look that might match the New Mexican environment where Price worked at one point.
With so much to work with, LACMA’s challenges lay in both communicating the artist’s importance to museum visitors who don’t know him while also displaying a collection that could survive the close scrutiny of serious art scholars and critics. But the exhibition successfully communicates Price’s importance, even to someone completely unfamiliar with him. From a small cup to a large-scale installation, Price’s distinctive humor and undeniable talent are readily apparent.
Regarding the exhibition as a whole, flaws proved minor. A section titled “The Cups” showed a group of endearing cups that stood on rather high pedestals. Though the cups definitely deserve their own attention and the long shadows underneath the pedestal add a little extra to the piece, the cups proved difficult to see for shorter visitors. LACMA normally feels welcoming to visitors of all statures, ages and handicaps, but this one part of the exhibition excludes some viewers. What’s more, the cups contain so much decoration that a 360-degree view would do them more justice. As they stand now, viewers can really only see one side.
Otherwise, the exhibition caters to a variety of museum-goers. Displayed in glass cases, in entire rooms or on pedestals, the works invite viewers to look at them at their own pace — just be sure to heed the guards’ warnings about invisible alarms measuring your distance from the free-standing pieces.
One particular quote from Price stands out from the rest of the words on the wall. In the section on Mexican pottery, Price addresses accusations that he made fun of Mexican work when he created these sculptures. With his quote, “You don’t have to act serious to be serious,” Price suggests that, despite his odd way of looking at the art form, the pottery had a great influence on him.
Perhaps Price’s ideology encompasses the exhibition as a whole. In its white-walled interior, the show might feel like a conventional museum show in which viewers must keep their voices low and scrutinize the artwork for theoretical epiphanies. But they only need to look at the sculptures to realize that their cosmic, humorous and almost otherworldly personalities call for a different experience altogether. Yes, the works deserve serious praise, but they also require the viewer to interpret them how they will.
LACMA gives art-lovers the map into Price’s history and artistic imagination. They just have to take the journey.
The retrospective runs until Jan. 6. LACMA is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd.