Have you been to LACMA?

By: Bill Whaley
15 September, 2012

Thanks to a piece published in The New York Times, called The Miracle in Bilbao by Herbert Muschamp, architecture critic (September 7, 1997), a refrain entered the language at the end of the 90s, “Have you been to Bilbao”? The recurring phrase referred to what the critic dared to call “the heart of American art today,” the new satellite Guggenheim Museum, slated to open on Oct. 19 of that year, designed by Frank Gehry. The design of the new museum itself stimulated interest and garnered viewers, who flew from America to the Basque Country in northern Spain to watch the work in progress at Bilbao in what Muschamp described as a “pilgrimage.”

Soon Taosenos are going to be asking each other, “Have you been to LACMA”?

At the recent opening of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) Ken Price retrospective, Sept. 12, 2012, architect Frank Gehry, who designed the LACMA show with Kenny’s help, spoke about the artist during the celebration of the life and work. Gehry’s remarks emphasized the pride of his friends in the artist’s work and the intimacy of the gathering. Gehry started off by saying this is “so fucking great.” And the “work is glorious, he showed how to do it. I learned so much…grew closer…hanging out in his studio.” Amidst multiple expletives in his informal encomium, Gehry noted that “two pieces were beyond belief” and said, “He isn’t finished yet. Don’t count him out.”

Among the 800 guests, who listened to Kenny’s friends and family, Taosenos, mostly staying at Venice’s Hotel Erwin and dining at Larry’s, a restaurant, were well represented. And the work, a chronological rendering of the man’s life, including the recent morphic and luminescent sculptures on pedestals as well as the 1968 vintage turtles with cups on sand along with the earlier famed cups, eggs, early mounds, humorous drawings, and nostalgic selections from Happy’s Curios were all displayed to spectacular effect.

While discussing the 117 sculptures and 11 drawings, the Los Angeles Times Art Critic (Seductive Power on full display: The Ken Price retrospective at LACMA marvelously captures the force and craft of his sculptures), Sept. 13, Christopher Knight,  writes that “Ken Price is one of the great American sculptors of the last half-century.”


In Ken Price Remembered, a pamphlet printed by LACMA,“Ken was probably the most unique sculptor of the times,” writes Larry Bell.  “From my perspective, he was a giant in my life and the personification of a serious artist with an incredible sense of humor. Ken moved to New Mexico around 1970, and I followed him in 1972. I moved to New Mexico because he was there…Knowing that Ken was at work was all I needed to nourish my strength in the studio. Kenny’s awesome skill and totally `off the wall’ sense of humor will live with me all my days, and I feel totally blessed to have known him.”

As the days pass, I will post more about the event, about the love and the respect, Kenny engendered, as the man and the artist, among his friends from Los Angeles, as well as son-in-law Carl Colonius, and son Jackson Price’s eloquent (because brief) remarks. Shy and self-effacing, Jackson initially said, “When I told my mother (Happy) my first idea, she said, `Hell no.’” The audience laughed with Jack as it did during a variety of anecdotes about the life and work, how Kenny inspired others, whether in art school or at the beginning of their careers, setting an example (still) for us all.

While we were looking at the work that night, Steve Rose, actor and aficionado, told me that Larry Bell said to be sure and view the work during the day because it was even more dazzling under natural light. The next day, liberated from the pressure of the opening night crowd, I did. The fusion of the artist and the art is a rare thing, I think, but when you look a piece of Kenny’s you inevitably see the humor and the voluptuous feeling for life that both he and the work embodied. It is unmistakable. And the commentary, whether by the artist himself, the critics, or friends, family, and comrades, only deepens the experience.

Before moving on to Dallas and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Ken Price Retrospective continues through Jan. 6, 2013 at LACMA; it’s an homage from his hometown of LA to our friend Kenny.

The catalogue of the show, Ken Price Sculpture, (LACMA & DelMonico Books, New York) 278 pages, the price has been discounted on Amazon and is a bargain. The hardcover book is a summary of Kenny’s life with well-written commentary by critics and succinct quotes from the artist–and beautiful photographs of the work.

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