There was something uncommonly quiet about the career of Kenneth Price, the late West Coast artist whose vaguely organic sculptures are finally receiving their due as some of the most important of the post-World War II era.
That’s why Albright-Knox chief curator Douglas Dreishpoon titled his exhibition of Price’s works on paper “Ken Price: Slow and Steady Wins the Race,” borrowing from Aesop’s tale of the tortoise and the hare to stress the artist’s unhurried confidence in his own work.
The show originated at the Drawing Center in New York City and opens in the Albright-Knox on Friday before heading off to the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, N.M., next year. It was designed to complement a larger Price retrospective organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which ended its run in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last week.
It contains dozens of works on paper by Price, who is known primarily as a sculptor, providing a view into his creative process that the sculptures alone cannot reveal. But, Dreishpoon said, Price’s drawings also contain ideas that were never meant to be developed into sculptures and stand on their own as autonomous works of art.
“Drawing was a way for him to dream on paper, a way to think about ideas which could conceivably be sculptural ideas but which could also just be pure fantasy, pure idea and something that had absolutely no reciprocity with sculptures,” Dreishpoon said. “It opened up other portals, creative portals for him, which I think was a great release at times.”
The drawings in the exhibition range from strange fusions of animal life and everyday materials, like a turtle swimming underwater with what looks like a coffee cup attached to its back, to bright red lava spurting up into a kaleidoscopic sky. There are also abstract drawings that bear a closer resemblance to Price’s often bulbous and biomorphic sculptures.
While other artists of the time were much louder and much more connected to the larger art world, Dreishpoon said that Price’s desire to be off the grid and to focus intently on his work outside the normal spheres of influence set him apart. After beginning his career in Los Angeles, Price later moved to the artists’ colony of Taos, which afforded him the isolation and quiet his contemplative work seemed to require.
“He once said to me that his greatest moments of joy were when he was able to have time in his studio with the phone off the hook, with jazz music playing in the background, and drawing,” Dreishpoon said. “Living in Taos, off the grid, was a way of just pursuing a certain kind of vision that, come what may, hell or high water, he produced the art that he wanted to, and it just took the world time to catch up.”