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Ken Price, the West Coast artist who made ceramic cool and sexy in the 1960s

2 min read  · 26 May 2023

Ken Price, Zaba (2008) Copyright the artist’s estate, courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery

Ken Price (1935-2012), the artist who first made ceramic sculpture cool and sexy in 1960s Los Angeles, is on the HENI News radar.

The late American sculptor’s HENI Score —a unique artist sentiment—has increased a remarkable 125% after strong auction results, which reflect collectors’ desire for his curious and colorful “biomorphic sculptures”. The artist’s auction sales have totaled $1.37m over the past two years.

Examples of Price’s works have sold for $1,265 for a 1974 geometric multicolor cup to $554,400 for M. Green (1961), an early, typically small-scale sculpture in ceramic and auto paint. Both sold at Christie’s, the latter for more than two and a half times its upper estimate.

Other recent sales include Price’s 1970 work, Untitled (Blind Sea Turtle Cup), which sold for $75,600, 12 times the high estimate at Christie's Online.

New York’s Matthew Marks Gallery has organised several solo shows of Price’s work since 2003 when it began working with the Los Angeles-born, later Taos-based artist. Price's works have been presented by dealers at major art fairs including Frieze and Art Basel.

The artist’s life story is as colorful as his works. He learned to play the trumpet with the jazz musician Chet Baker, was a surfer in the 1950s, and in the 1960s the artist hung out with the likes of the actor-photographer Dennis Hopper, who introduced Price to Taos in New Mexico, and the poet Charles Bukowski.

Price first made his mark on the West Coast. He had his first solo show at the now legendary Ferus Gallery in LA in 1960, aged 25. In his obituary in The New York Times, its critic Roberta Smith wrote. “Mr Price was a progenitor of the Finish Fetish school of meticulous object-making that did so much to establish Los Angeles as an art capital.” She added that Price blew up the distinction between fine art and craft in his use of painted clay.

Ken Price, Study for Plate (1978). Menil Collection. Bequest of William F. Stern. Copyright estate of Ken Price, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Price was also an accomplished cartoonist. His works on paper, small in scale like his sculptures, was the focus of an exhibition at New York’s The Drawing Center in 2013, organised by his friend, the curator Douglas Dreishpoon.

The artist only had one solo museum show during his lifetime, organised by Houston’s Menil Collection in 1992. But his trailblazing work has inspired contemporary artists, such as those included in London’s Hayward Gallery’s show in 2022 “Strange Clay”, which featured Price's work.

In 2005, the artist reflected on his preference for creating off-beat sculptures that can be held in the palm of a hand. “Sculpture of an intimate size draws the viewer in for a closer look, and there should be a payoff when that happens. One’s relationship to a smaller piece can be magical,” Price told Dreishpoon in an interview published posthumously by the Brooklyn Rail.

To get a deeper understanding of Ken Price’s career visit his HENI Dashboard ; a unique graphical data tool illustrating an artist’s auction sales, shows, profiles, mentions and their HENI Score. You can search for any one of the 100,000 Artist Dashboards to quickly appreciate their trajectory as well as sharing via email, text and WhatsApp.


Ken Price

Los Angeles