In memoriam: Kenneth M. Price, 77
Kenneth Martin Price ’57, professor emeritus of fine arts at the USC Roski School of Fine Arts and a pioneer in the field of ceramics who pushed the boundaries of working with clay well beyond traditionally assigned roles, has died. He was 77.
Price died on Feb. 24 at his home in Arroyo Hondo, N.M., of complications from tongue and throat cancer.
News of his death was covered in major U.S. publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.
“Ken Price was by far the most distinguished alum and faculty member of the Roski School of Fine Arts,” said Dean Rochelle Steiner. “For half a century, he made innovative sculptural works of art in ceramics that have redefined contemporary art and, in turn, has influenced generations of artists living in Los Angeles, the United States and abroad.”
For nearly 15 years, Price taught at USC Roski, where he helped to advance the ceramics area of study. He achieved the rank of tenured professor in 1994 and was honored as professor emeritus in 2005. In 2011, he received the USC Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award.
Price was born on Feb. 16, 1935, in West Hollywood, the only child of Kenneth Albert Price and the former Joan Agnes Collins. Price received his bachelor’s of fine arts from USC, and, after studying briefly with Peter Voulkos at the Los Angeles County Institute of Art (now the Otis College of Art and Design), he pursued graduate study at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.
Back in Los Angeles, Price became a fixture at the Ferus Gallery, where he held the first of three solo shows in 1960. His early sculptures were modest in scale – they rarely measured more than 10 or 20 inches on a side – and reflected his lifelong interest in precision and finish.
Price became known in the early 1960s for his “egg” structures, luminously glazed ovoids with slits through which suggestively sexual or scatological forms seemed to ooze.
During this time, he also worked in series and produced variations of teacups. Many of his earliest cups featured creatures – most notably snails – on the base.
Largely recognized as the first postmodern ceramicist, Price experimented with bright colors and various techniques throughout his career. In the 1970s, he devoted much of his time to “Happy’s Curios,” an installation that explored the possibilities of pottery in a kind of homage to anonymous Mexican artists whose work often was found along roadsides. During the 1980s, his work became highly colorful and architectural, and in the 1990s, his sculptures took on new forms, becoming more fluid, rhythmic and contoured.
Price’s work is included in the collections of nearly 40 public art museums in the United States and Europe, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This fall his work will be celebrated in a 50-year retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and later will travel to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Price is survived by his wife, Happy Ward, son, Jackson, stepchildren Romy Colonius and Sydney McDonnell, and nine grandchildren.