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Full text of "Robert Irwin--Kenneth Price"

ROBERT IRWIN 



KENNETH PRICE 



REGISTRAR'S OFFICE COPY 
DO NOT REMOVE 



23 



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RO BE RT I RWI IM KENNETH PRICE 



An exhibition organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in cooperation with the 
Museum's Contemporary Art Council. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Lytton Gallery, 1966 



This exhibition presents a selection of the recent painting and sculpture of two major Los 
Angeles artists. I am grateful to Robert Irwin and Kenneth Price, and to their dealer, Irving 
Blum of FerusPace Gallery, for their cooperation and assistance. My assistant, Mrs. Betty 
Asher, helped in the preparation of the exhibition; Ed Cornachio took all the photographs. 

— Maurice Tuchman 



LENDERS 

L. M. Asher Family 

Irving Blum 

Mr. and Mrs. Donn Chappellet 

Mr. and Mrs. Donald Factor 

Sterling Holloway 

Ferus-Pace Gallery, Los Angeles and New York 



ROBERT IRWIN 

Under the testing of modernism more and more of the conventions of painting 
have shovKn themselves to be dispensable, unessential. By now it has been es- 
tablished, It would seem, that the irreducible essence of pictorial art consists 
In but two constitutive conventions or norms: flatness and the delimitation of 
flatness . . . 

— Clement Greenberg 

There Is just one art. one art-as-art. 

— Ad Relnhardt 

Why It became the mission of modernism to determine "the irreducible essence of pictorial 
art" Is seen by Clement Greenberg to have been a kind of backlash of the Enlightenment. "A 
more rational justification had begun to be demanded of every formal social activity!' Unless 
painting could provide itself with such a justification, it could not expect to be taken, simply 
on faith, as an activity of more intrinsic worth, say, than acrobatics or juggling: 

At first glance the arts might seem to have been in a situation like religion's. 
Having been denied by the Enlightenment all tasks they could take seriously, 
they looked as though they were going to be assimilated to entertainment, pure 
and simple, and entertainment itself looked as though It were going to be assimi- 
lated, like religion, to therapy. The arts could save themselves from this leveling 
down only by demonstrating that the kind of experience they provided was valu- 
able in Its own right and not to be obtained from any other kind of activity. i 

To demonstrate why it, and it alone, could provide an experience "not to be obtained from 
any other kind of activity" art began that intensive search for what was unique to It which 
has continued down to the present day. The task involved repeated discoveries that what 
was thought to be essential was In fact superfluous, until "every effect that might conceiv- 
ably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art" was eliminated. 

It was the stressing, however, of the ineluctable flatness of the support that re- 
mained most fundamental in the processes by which pictorial art criticized and 
defined itself under Modernism ... Flatness, two-dlmensionality, was the only 
condition painting shared with no other art, and so Modernist painting oriented 
Itself to flatness as it did to nothing else. 2 



Whether founded in certain pressures brought to bear by the Enlightenment or not, it would 
be difficult to disagree with Mr. Greenberg that the main direction of modernist painting 
has been toward the affirmation of the flatness of the picture plane and the elimination of 
those effects which tend to conceal or disguise this flatness. The fundamental standard by 
which successive generations of artists have evaluated and reacted to the work of their prede 
cessors appears to have been, most consistently, their success or failure in further clarifying 
the rock-bottom elements of the medium. Mr. Greenberg, along with a goodly number of 
younger critics, has been considerably involved over the years in filling out the details of 
this general picture, analyzing, from generation to generation and from artist to artist, the 
manner in which each has responded to the efforts of the other in bringing painting as a 
whole into line with the demands of the standard of utter fidelity to the nature of the medium. 

What IS new, and has been new since at least the beginning of this decade, has been the 
consciousness with which a considerable number of artists have also become involved in 
filling out the details. Hyper-conscious of the situation in which modernist art has found 
itself, the artists of this decade have been remarkably hesitant in taking the risks that might 
be called for to loosen the stranglehold of a more and more intensified commitment to flat- 
ness, falling back instead upon more and more rarified explorations of "the delimitation of 
flatness!' The result has been that the nerveless spectre of Critique has goaded the inspira- 
tion of more recent paintings than has the search for "the kind of experience not to be ob- 
tained from any other kind of activity!' In short, Critique has become inspiration; the means 
have become the end. But Critique is not art, necessary as it has been and may continue to 
be to art. 

The satisfaction that has attended the explorations of the best painters of this decade has 
been this: that whatever esthetic response can be elicited by paintings completely consis- 
tent with flatness and the delimitation of flatness is a response which comes from the art 
of painting alone, unsweetened by the qualities of any other activity. This knowledge has 
been their triumph. But, as recent abstract painting came to place itself more and more in 
the service of a technical intellectuality, it became inevitable that certain artists would 
emerge who would make clear their willingness to take whatever risks are necessary to re- 
affirm the fact that the function of a painting is to convey the experience of art. Among 
these, Robert Irwin is perhaps the most audacious. 

In Robert Irwin's most recent paintings one is confronted by what at first appears to be an 
immaculate white picture plane, about seven feet square, and nothing more. Some time 



must pass — a minute, or two, or three — before the viewer becomes fully aware of an Indis- 
tmct, Irregularly-shaped mass which seems to have emerged out of the white plane (or Is 
perceived within it, or behind It), roughly centered. The coloration Is so subdued that there 
IS no possibility of defining what one sees In terms of It, but rather in terms of what It sug- 
gests: a quality of energy, an energy, one feels, which will tend, ultimately to dissolve Itself 
uniformly on the picture plane ;n a kind of entropic dissipation. The rest — after the elements 
of the painting have, so to speak, "emerged"— is a history of hypnotic involvement between 
the viewer and the elements of color and whiteness before him. Upon the quality of this in- 
volvement, the entire success or failure of the picture Is staked: Irwin has systematically re- 
frained from offering anything more than the conditions which make this involvement possi- 
ble. This IS to say that Irwin has left himself nothing to fall back upon: if what the viewer is 
experiencing is not art, there are no substitute gratifications to get him by. 

To this extent, then, at least, Irwin affirms the logic of Clement Greenberg's understanding 
of the history of modernist art — that a painting must deliver an esthetic experience which 
only it can deliver, uncontaminated by effects of a lesser nature. If, in these paintings, Irwin 
runs the risk of a calculated "impurity" of presentation, it is because the risks of painting 
as Critique have come to appear to him as even more forbidding. In short, for Robert Irwin, 
the choice of deliberately curving the canvas to help "drop away" the framing edge is not 
half so questionable as is making a painting solely to draw attention to its presence. The 
response "How logical!" is not a response to art. 

In Irwm's painting, the point of modernist art shifts from an exploration of the elements 
essential to the medium to the elements essential to the conveying of the experience of art, 
which IS to say, away from Critique and back to the point of it all. The framing edge, for 
example, is not seen as a conditioning factor, strongly to be affirmed, the necessary source 
of many decisions within the painting itself. Instead, the precise weight it is to have in the 
total scheme of things is measured and balanced, and, because its intrusive presence in 
these paintings is not to be emphasized, Irwin chooses to curve the canvas in such a manner 
as to leave its curvature virtually invisible from the proper viewing distance, to effect the 
most subtle playing down of the edge, so that it appears virtually to "drop away" out of the 
viewer's consciousness. This "invisible curve;' designed primarily to integrate the edge into 
the total effect of the work without making the solution the work of art in itself , is perhaps 
the most successful single aspect of Irwin's recent paintings. 

The color-energy which emerges from the white surface of these paintings is as neutral of 



associative overtones as any presence on the canvas can conceivably be. All elements extran- 
eous to the evocation of an esthetic emotion and no other emotion have been eliminated 
with a fanatic's thoroughness. Because any mass has distracting associations, the mass 
here is at last dissolved into a haze of color-energy. Because any edge has connotations of 
shape, there is not a distinct edge anywhere in the painting. Because incident of any kind 
tends to distract, incidents of strong coloration, of horizontaiity. verticality, texture or con- 
trast have been eliminated. What is left is an experience of space and of light. 

It is worth noting that even this simple description of what the paintings look like (and it 
is as feeble, from the point of view of communicating what the paintings are about as the 
photographs to which Irwin so categorically objects) indicates a series of risks which Irwin 
has taken in these latest works, risks which would seem utterly senseless were it not possi- 
ble to discover, behind each of them, a conception of art which not only makes all of them 
understandable, but, indeed, inevitable if that conception is to be put to the test at all. 
That conception involves, first of all, the dedication of the work of art to the creation of an 
immensely human esthetic encounter between viewer and painting, and second, a complex 
disassociation, in Irwin's mind, between art and the art-object. 

First of these risks is the introduction of, and insistence upon, the element of time, which 
would appear to impose, quite arbitrarily, a sequential structure on an art form to which 
such a structure is not native. But what Irwin manifestly wishes to do is slow the viewer 
down , prepare him, in effect, for an encounter. A certain measurable duration of time Is 
necessary before one can even see what there is to be seen, so that the viewer will either 
see the painting the way Irwin wants him to see it or he will not — quite literally — see the 
painting at all. This double risk — that of seeming to impose a distracting and irrelevant 
time sequence on the one hand, or of losing entirely the viewer who will not adjust to Irwin's 
tempo on the other— is taken not in the name of looking at a picture, but of experiencing 
art. The name of the game, after all, is Art, not Looking at Pictures, and these latest paint- 
ings of Robert Irwin's, time after time, deliberately risk losing presence as an art object for 
the sake of gaining presence as art. 

The second risk involves the reintroduction of an ambiguous, atmospheric space which 
modernist painting has, for most of this decade, been at pains to banish in the interests of 
non-illusionism. The space, for example, in which the halation of color-energy in Irwin's 
paintings manifests itself would be unthinkable in a painting by Stella, Noland or Barnett 
Newman, and was not permitted to himself even by Robert Irwin in his previous paintings. 



What we are dealing with is the calculated reintroduction of an element whose potentialities 
for mischief are so thoroughly understood by the artist, that he offers it only under the 
most exacting of circumstances, ridding it of as many of its previous connotations as possi- 
ble. The "integrity of the picture plane as a two-dimensional surface" is violated, but in 
such a way as to suggest that such violations may be possible once again. 

The third risk — and this would seem to involve the most far-reaching implications about 
the nature of the art-object itself— is the complete openhandedness with which Irwin per- 
mits the entire illusion to dissolve upon close inspection of the painting itself. At optimal 
viewing distance, which begins at about ten feet and may extend to as much as forty feet 
from the painting, all is light and space. One must come to within a foot or two of the 
canvas to observe that the sensation of perceiving an indistinct mist of color-energy is pro- 
duced by the meticulous application of tiny dots of color over a given area. At a distance of 
two or three feet what had appeared to be flat is seen to be bowed, and what had appeared 
to be an evanescent haze of energized color is seen to be merely an uninteresting array of 
specks of red and green pigment, lacking even that mysterious tactllity and sensousness 
which, say, a Seurat, seen close, might have. Up close, the painting is an empty stage. 

What Robert Irwin is insisting upon, these paintings seem Irresistibly to declare. Is that the 
medium is not the message. They explore a division, as absolute as can possibly be demon- 
strated, between the art-object and the art, between the painting and the experience of art. 
What stays in the museum is only the art-object, not valueless, but not of the value of art. 
The art is what has happened to the viewer. 

— Philip Lelder 



iCIement Greenberg "Modernist Painting," in The New Art. edited by Gregory Battcock, New York, Dutton, 

1966, pp. 100-110. 

2|bid. 



ROBERT IRWIN 



No title, 1963-1965. Oil on canvas, 82y2"x84y2". 

Lent by FerusPace Gallery. 
No title, 1963-1965. Oil on canvas, 82y2"x84y2". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 
No title, 1963-1965. Oil on canvas. 821/2" x84y2". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 
No title, 1965. Oil on canvas, 42"x43". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 
No title, 1965. Oil on canvas, 42"x43". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 



Robert Irw/in was born in Long Beach, California in 1928. He has had one-man exhibitions 
at the Felix Landau Gallery in 1957; at the Ferus Gallery in 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964; at the 
Pasadena Art Museum in 1960. He resides in Los Angeles. 



At the request of Robert Irw^in no photographs of his work are included in the catalog. 



KENNETH PRICE 



1. Silver, 1961. Fired and painted clay, H. 12 ; H. with stand 70 '. 

Lent by Irving Blum. 

2. Red, 1961. Fired and painted clay, H. 19"; H. with stand 70'. 

Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Factor. 

3. Black, 1961. Fired and painted clay, H. 11 "'V'; H. with stand 70". 

Lent by Sterling Holloway. 

4. M. Green, 1961. Fired and painted clay, W. 13 ; H. with stand 70". 

Lent by L. M. Asher Family. 

5. S.Violet, 1963. Fired and painted clay, W. 11"; H. with stand 70". 

Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Donn Chappellet. 

6. B. T. Blue, 1963. Fired and painted clay, H. 10"; H. with stand 70". 

Lent by L. M. Asher Family, 

7. G. G. White, 1963. Fired and painted clay, H. 10"; H. with stand 70". 

Lent by Sterling Holloway. 

8. G. L. Green, 1964. Fired and painted clay, H. 7"; H. with stand 70". 

Lent by Irving Blum. 

9. Specimen CH03.20, 1964. Fired and painted clay, W. 2';"; total W. 13" 

Lent by L. M. Asher Family. 

10. Specimen CJ1303, 1964. Fired and painted clay, W. 2'//; total W. 12". 

Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Factor. 

11. Specimen B1520.06, 1964. Fired and painted clay, W. 3"; total W. 15'/;' 

Lent by the artist. 

12. Specimen CJ2421, 1965. Fired and painted clay, W. 2'/:"; total W. 12". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 

13. L. Violet, 1965. Fired and painted clay, H. 5"; H. with stand 17". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 

14. M. Violet, 1965. Fired and painted clay, H. 5';"; H. with stand 14". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 

15. D. Violet, 1965. Fired and painted clay, H. 6" 

Lent by the artist. 

16. S. 0. F Violet, 1966. Fired and painted clay, W. 6%". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 

17. C. R. C. Green, 1966. Fired and painted clay. V/. 6%". 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 



Kenneth Price was born in Los Angeles in 1935. He has had one-man exhibitions at Ferus 
Gallery in 1960, 1961 and 1964. He resides in Los Angeles. 




1 Sliver 19>jl Fired .ind p.3inted clay. H 12 . H with stand 70 
Lent by Irving Blum 





6 B T Blue, 1963 Fired and painted clay, H 10' . H. with stand 70 
Lent by L. M. Asher Family. 








. Red, 1961. Fired and painted clay, H. 19 . H. with stand 70'. 
Lent by Mr and Mrs. Donald Factor. 




3. Black, 1961, Fired and painted clay. H. 1 1' -■ 
Lent by Sterling Holloway, 



; H, withstand 70 




4. M. Green, 1961 Fired and painted clay. W, 13 ', H, with stand 70" 
Lent by L. M Asher Family, 




5. S. Violet, 1963. Fired and painted clay, W ir. H. withstand 70'. 
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Donn Chappellet. 




7 G, G. Whi:e, 1963. Fired and painted clay, H. 10' ; H. with stand 70". 
Lent by Sterling Holloway- 




, G. L. Green. 1964. Fired and painted clay, H. 7"; H. with stand 70", 
Lent by Irving Blum. 




17. C. R. C. Green, 1966. Fired and painted clay, W. 6Vi". 
Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery, 





9. Specimen C1103-20. 1964 Fired and painted clay, W. 2'/ 
Lent by L. M, Asher Family. 




10 Specimen CJ1303. 1964 Fired and painted clay, W, 2'!' ; total W. 12' 
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Factor, 




11 Specimen B1520 06, 1964 Fired and painted clay, W. 3 , total W. 15'/2" 
Lent by the artist. 




12. Specimen CJ2421, 1965. Fired and painted clay, W. 2'/^", total W. 12" 
Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 



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13. L. Violet. 1965- Fired and patnted clay, H. 5 '; H, with stand 17 '. 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery 

14. M. Vtolet, 1965. Fired and painted clay. H. 5':'. H. with stand 14" 

Lent by Ferus-Pace Gallery. 




15. D. Violet, 1965. Fired and painted clay, H. 6' 
Lent by the artist. 




16, S. 0. F Violet, 1966. Fired and painted clay, W. 6'^". 
Lent by Ferus Pace Gallery. 



KENNETH PRICE 

It IS a fact rather than a value judgment that no one else, on the east or west coast, is work- 
ing like Kenneth Price. He is involved in a peculiarly contemporary dialectic, but he has 
deliberately read himself out of the vanguard race for innovation. His pace, like his morphol- 
ogy, is his own. He has chosen an idiom central to modern art in which the working decis- 
ions are flexible instead of fixed. There is in his work that simultaneous commitment and 
detachment identified with the increasingly oriental cast of Western thought, an unsenti- 
mental respect for the shiny armoured surfaces of a luxury civilization as well as a precise 
and delicate awareness of the most elusive bonds between man and nature. These are not 
contradictory but complementary aspects of modern life. 

Price is, of course, something of a Surrealist, something of a purist, something of an expres- 
sionist, something of a naturalist. Obvious, if irrelevant precedents for the so-called egg 
shape (it is rarely that regular) for which he is known can be found in Moore, Miro, Brancusi, 
Arp, Ernst, Flannagan, Picasso, and the Japanese art of bonseki, though exposure to these 
prototypes came, if at all, after his own direction was firmly established. Price's ideas, formal 
and evocative, are universal. Images that stem from the very sources of natural or common 
experience have a broader base than the art-historical experience. Egg and dome are basic 
shapes that could have been selected by anyone, anywhere. Like geometry, biomorphism is 
simply an available means for an individual absolute. In Price's case the egg form seems to 
have come from a long interest in zoology and a logical evolution from the last of the conical 
or mound-shaped pots he made around 1959. In addition, one tends to forget that the west 
coast IS usually isolated from the influences that swell and diminish the New York or Pari- 
sian scene. Now that Los Angeles can claim its own place in the international scheme, there 
has been a tendency to group its past with the pasts of other, more cosmopolitan art cen- 
ters. Price was raised and largely educated in Southern California but the only influence he 
concedes (with Picasso) is the sculptor Peter Voulkos, whose great individual and profes- 
sional vitality contributed to the rejuvenation of the Los Angeles art world, and who was 
instrumental in the liberation of ceramic from its craft orientation. Price, John Mason and 
Billy Al Bengston worked with him at the County Art Institute in 1956-57, making up at that 
time a unique group of ceramicists who could be considered progressive artists first and 
foremost Price took this aspect of his training still further when he got a Master's degree 
in Fine Arts from the most respected ceramic engineering school in the country, at Alfred, 
New York. 



Yet despite biographical ties to the area, there Is little reason to link Price with specific atti- 
tudes or stylistic trends in Los Angeles. Highly skilled execution should not be considered 
special to Southern California even if constructional expertise may be taken for granted here 
more than elsewhere. Price's occasional industrial enamel or lacquer surfaces and acid 
color schemes are matters of conceptual convenience, while a certain perversity that might 
be related to the sociological peculiarities of Hollywood and environs can also be attributed 
to the 1960's in general. Price does not, for instance, subscribe to a "fetishist's" reverence 
for materials as such. The shells of his sculpture are always clay, the tendrils clay or wood, 
but the surfaces can be oil, lacquer, enamel, glaze, grainy, shiny, pitted, dented or scored, 
streaked or nuanced, matte or chatoyant, and are wholly determined by formal concept. The 
clearcut, strongly colored outer form conveys a toughness and modernity while the dark, 
glassy orifice and tendrils, with their suggestion of a teeming, damp, cool substratum, bring 
to bear most strongly the organic metaphor that is responsible for the sculpture's extra- 
formal fascination. Immediately recognizable, if not nameable, the protruding finger-stamen 
bud-pod root-phallus fungus-visceral-larval germinal shapes reflect a shared experience, an 
archetypal fact that is doubly provocative because the highly charged allusions are so im- 
passively protected and contained. 

Price's work suffers from reproduction more than most sculpture because continuous con- 
tour is more important than silhouette. It should not be read frontally; the lobed bands, or 
elongated, freely flowing images, can follow, transform or contradict the gentle outer curve. 
as well as creating a middleground between surface and aperture or countering the direc- 
tional thrust of the tendrils. The apertures are not holes, but recesses, glimpses of an her- 
metic core that in the recent work has pushed its way close to the surface, or beyond. These 
recesses break both surface and contour, while the bands are binding agents, leading the 
eye around the form, lifting the weight from its base or asserting it by establishing a low 
center of gravity. The strong focal effect of the aperture can be modified, de-emphasized. 
by the painted figures, or intensified, the surface contracted around the opening. Actually, 
the serial aspect of Price's work has been stressed to the neglect of its great variety. Since 
1958 he has developed steadily, the various phases marked not by sudden stylistic change, 
but by a continued tightening up, assurance and sophistication. The generalized, self-con- 
tained outer form has become the vehicle for an Increasingly inventive range of painted and 
sculpted interaction. The monochromatic M. Green , 1961, (cat. no. 4) for example, with its 
coolly glowing enamel surface and broad, undeviating band, employs the image to enclose 
the outer form, hold back the groping tendrils, while the brilliant B. G. Red , 1963, uses the 
crisply outlined, rapid parallel figures to contradict obliquely the vertical axis, to sharpen 



the complex exchange between actual and implied space and movement. If Price has never 
been interested in the flat rectangularity of a canvas, his color— saturated, self-assertive, some- 
times harshly atonal — is as specific and highly tuned as that of most painters. The example 
could have been provided by Voulkos' polychromy, by California painters like Lorser Feitel- 
son or by the color fields of Barnett Newman or Ellsworth Kelly, but it is more likely that 
Price evolved his color as intuitively as his form. Its sun-drenched quality and industrial 
associations may not be coincidental, but they are incidental. 

Size and scale are often confused in descriptions of current art. Large size interpreted as 
"presence" has been misused to disguise formal poverty. Yet scale is relative and Price's 
intent can not be confused with the landscape measure of, say, a Newman painting or a 
David Smith sculpture. Like them it has a solemnity that holds the viewer at a distance, but 
this is accompanied by an intimacy m keeping with the content. Except for a group of large 
(around 5' in diameter) fiberglass pieces in progress for several years now, all of Price's work 
is small in size, very small compared to the gigantism of most contemporary sculpture, the 
largest being around a foot high. Price determines scale by form, by color, contour, figura- 
tion and by subtle textures which, as John Coplans has observed, slow down the visual 
scan;! more translucent surfaces can "float" the volume by means of reflection from the 
light-toned base. He does all he can to control the space in which his sculpture will be seen. 
Each piece has a pedestal designed by the artist — an expertly carpentered pillar that estab- 
lishes the breadth of surface and viewing height. Until recently these were often unexpec- 
tedly tall, with eye level directed at the middle of the form (since a downward view of many 
shapes diminishes scale) and at the apertures (perhaps because the involvement is more 
immediate that way). The base's surface is larger for a horizontal volume that needs more 
breathing space than a vertical, and the smallest pieces are isolated in boxes so they are 
less likely to be left around on book cases as bric-a-brac or, worse still, little "feelies!' De- 
spite their size, and because of their scale, tall pedestals, alert stances, brilliant colors and 
hard surfaces, Price's work imposes an atmosphere of detachment, even hostility. There 
is nothing self-effacing about them however vulnerable they may seem. "Like the geometric 
redness of the Black Widow's belly or the burning rings of the Coral Snakei' Henry Hopkins 
has written, "these objects announce their intent to survive!'2 

Occasional detours have been made Into special groups. The bump, or mound shape which 
developed from the general classic form of a pot invested with a vocabulary drawn from 
nature rather than function, is less abstract, less neutral than the egg shape. The mounds 
are firmly grounded where the eggs balance lightly on a single point or rest weightily on 



their sides. Because the bump is more asymmetrical it is likely to be more allusive, as in 
Red , 1961, (cat. no. 2) where the painted bands move like pink tongues around the swelling 
surface, over and out of the dark orifices whose protrusions are truncated like cut stems, 
as though the outer form had overcome or emasculated the growing shoots. Some irregular, 
pebble-like pieces lie on beds of sand or in painted, papered or collaged boxes. These, and 
the few cups Price still makes as an avocation, can diverge into a playful, sometimes pre- 
cious direction that has more in common with California Surrealism and assemblage than 
do the major pieces. Some are perfectly abstract, or functional, while others afford a broader 
scope to wit and fantasy, incorporating fantastic animals, numbers, trade signs or emblems. 
A series of six or eight strange Specimens , made around 1964, are more exquisite and more 
personal. The very small matte blue and red "mushroom-egg" in the Asher collection rests 
majestically on a velvet pillow and a low columned platform, like a combination of crown 
jewel and heir apparent to some mythological potentate. 

Price may like the work of several leading Surrealists, but his esthetic position and use of 
an allusive imagery is post Surrealist. Though independent of literal symbolism and distinctly 
committed to the non-objective (which is foreign to the anti-esthetic and anti-abstraction 
program of official Surrealism), he is occupied with the unique rather than the commonplace, 
the dispassionately personal rather than the aggressively impersonal of prevailing modes. 
With the possible exception of Arp, whose fantasy is more playful and whose inclusion in the 
Surrealist ranks is more a matter of association than style, there has been no purer fusion 
of abstraction and poetry. Unlike Arp's, Price's "purism" has a dark, even unpleasant side 
that comprises his most convincing link to Surrealism. Despite their beauty and an under- 
current of melancholy, these small entities are potentially dangerous. Their delicate balance 
emulates that of nature. Some of the Specimens may be whimsical, the larger sculpture sel 
dom IS. Its natural reference is so clear that it sheds cliches and both demands and repels 
participation. Like all intuitive art, it is difficult to generalize except on its own non-verbal 
terms. The most Surrealist characteristic is the sensuous element that pervades each piece 
in spite of the protective shell. The extended tendrils, limp or erect, the rounded but never 
totally regular contour, the minute variations of surface texture or patina, harsh or luxuriant 
colors, intimate scale and disturbing aloofness elicit more than ordinary visual involvement 
of the spectator's senses. The extent or existence of erotic suggestion is as difficult to dis- 
cuss as to gauge, since sensuous reactions of any kind are unquestionably subjective. Price 
himself defines eroticism in a strict sense and sees no such content in his art; on the other 
hand there are viewers who find it hard to get past the biological implications to broader 
values. Certainly this sculpture is not obscene, but there is an element of growth, pain, emerg- 



ence, fulfillment that can elicit genital or anal processes. Because the imagery is so abstract, 
and less anthropomorphic than vegetal in character, the sexual reference is far more refined 
than it is in the near-abstract Surrealists like Miro, Masson or Ernst. Since 1961 the apertures 
and tendrils have been progressively de-emphasized, further restraining such evocative 
effects. It may be that Price has become more aware of the necessity to combat or control 
the spectator's free associations, or this may have been an incidental by product of develop- 
ing formal schemes. 

Potential metamorphosis, a tension born of holding back, marks the ovoid and mound pieces. 
There is no reason to believe that Price is consciously follow/mg a natural evolutionary cycle 
or that spreading, animate form will replace the present vehicle, but in the last year or so 
some sort of transformation, far from complete, perhaps temporary, has begun. Apertures 
and tendrils have surfaced, flattened and emerged as exterior forms pitted with elliptical 
imprints. In A. C. Green , 1963, the painted yellow image dominates, from one angle, the 
green ground, splitting and peeling away the surface down to a flesh-colored patch and then 
to a layered concave area of green and black, with impressions of vestigial tendrils. The yel- 
low figure IS crisply bordered in black; the outer form is nearly perfect, though the surface is 
roughly grained. The sculpture as a whole displays an open, self-assured specificity that dif- 
fers from the closed, secretive aura of the works where the aperture is a focal point. L. Violet , 
M. Violet and D. Violet , 1965, (cat. nos. 13, 14, 15) go one step further; the extruding areas 
are now virtually independent of the mass, as though in the process of growth they had vio- 
lated the shell with a will to move and change. The substitution of multiple seed like pits for 
a few hard, pressing tendrils, piledup for buried forms, a square or spreading shape for the 
restrained egg, a concave or convex area for the painted figure, indicates an expansion of 
the metaphor as well as of its formal possibilities. The two 1966 pieces shown here-C.R.C. 
Green and S.O. F Violet , (cat. nos. 16, 17) are still more original solutions. Now fluid images 
dominate rather than alter the contour. The forms are less centrally contained than in all 
the earlier work. Tendrils and egg have fused, taken on the color and texture of the shell and 
become something else. 

The ovoid is a proved and accepted sculptural form. The new pieces move into a more idio- 
syncratic province and challenge certain existing ideas about sculpture, and about the differ- 
ence between sculpture and "object!' The object is by current art definition a Dada-Surrealist 
offspring; the word is used, sometimes pejoratively, to cover a multitude of minor sins and 
decorative extravagances as well as the validly advanced work of Lucas Samaras, or a small 
Kienholz. It is most often used to describe assemblage, or three-dimensional art containing 



identifiable articles, and as such is separated from sculpture. In another guise, the object 
esthetic is used to describe the Primary Structures of Judd, Morris. McCracken or Hamrol. 
Entirely non-objective, these planar, unitary, deadpan sculptures are conceptual descendents 
of recent painting rather than of the sculptural mainstream; thus they too are separated from 
sculpture. Recently there have been signs that a third kind of "object" is occurring independ- 
ently to younger artists in the East (Viner, Hess, Kuehn) and in the West (Nauman, Potts). 
They share with the Structurists a painter's eye, a concern with unitary form rather than the 
multiple, additive premise of assemblage and mainstream sculpture, and because the form 
is single, the scale of such compact works often seems larger than normal. Like Price, these 
artists refuse to forego the sensuous effects of form first explored by the Surrealists, but re- 
ject direct Freudian or figurative allusion in favor of an anti-expressionist aloofness. 

Price's new forms are non-sculptural in these senses because they abdicate the monolithic 
solidity of the egg shape (without sacrificing its weight) and claim an unexpected dignity 
from a fluid awkwardness foreign to traditional idioms. Until now, true biomorphism has been 
limited almost entirely to painting. Brancusi, Arp and Moore never wholly abandoned the 
gestural or anthropomorphic stance implicit in modern sculpture. As Price's sculpture be- 
comes less and less ingratiating, it acquires a beautiful and rather horrible strangeness that 
appeals both to the mind and to the senses. With his unique approach to polychromy and to 
small, low-slung forms, he is in the process of discovering one alternative to the restrictions 
of conventional sculpture. 

— Lucy R. Lippard 



'John Coplans. Five Los Angeles Sculptors, Art Gallery. University of California, Iruine, 1966, p. 3 
^Henry Hopkins. "Kenneth Price." Artforum. {vol. 2. no 2). August. 1963, p 41 



LOS ANGELES COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS 

Burton W. Chace, Chairman 

Frank G. Bonelli 

Ernest E. Debs 

Warren M. Dorn 

Kenneth Hahn 

Lindon S. Hollinger, Chief Administrative Officer 



LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART 



BOARD OF TRUSTEES 

Edward W. Carter, Chairman 
Sidney F Brody, President 
William T. Sesnon, Jr., Chairman, 

Executive Committee 
Howard Ahmanson, Vice President 
Mrs. Aerol Arnold, Vice President 
Mrs. Freeman Gates, Vice President 
Franklin D. Murphy. Vice President 
Mrs. Kellogg Spear, Secretary 
Theodore E. Cummings 
Justin Dart 
Charles E. Ducommun 
Joseph B. Koepfli 
Mrs. Rudolph Liebig 
Charles 0. Matcham 
Taft B. Schreiber 
Richard E. Sherwood 
Norton Simon 
Maynard J. Toll 
John Walker 
Mrs. Stuart E. Weaver, Jr. 



STAFF 

Kenneth Donahue, Director 

Henry T Hopkins, Chief, Educational Services 

Talmadge L. Reed, Chief, Museum Operations 

William Osmun, Senior Curator 

Ebria Feinblatt, Curator, Prints and Drawings 

Stefania P Holt, Curator, Textiles and Costumes 

George Kuwayama, Curator, Oriental Art 

Gregor Norman -Wilcox, Curator, Decorative Arts 

Maurice Tuchman, Curator, Modern Art 

Larry Curry, Assistant Curator 

Eugene I. Holt, Assistant Curator 

Ann A. Lafferty, Assistant Curator 

Gloria Cortella. Administrative Assistant, 

Curatorial Division 
Dorothe Curtis, Administrative Assistant, 

Educational Services Division 
L. Clarice Davis, Museum Librarian 
Frieda Kay Fall, Registrar 
Kathryn Leech, Assistant Registrar 



1.000 copies of Irwm-Price, designed by John and Marilyn Neuhart. printed by Toyo Printing Company, were publistied for 
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the occasion of the exhibition July 7-September 4, 1966 



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