Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective can be viewed at LACMA through January 6, 2013.
ONE OF THE CENTERPIECES of the UCLA campus, between the Luskin School of Public Affairs and the Broad Art Center, is the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, named for a former chancellor who had the idea for it. The sculpture garden was modeled on the one at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, albeit more in spirit than in form — in Los Angeles you don’t get a rectangle like an outdoor living room, stepped and terraced and travertined, like you do in New York. Rather, you enter something a bit more rolling and pastoral, with frayed edges and curved borders. Where MoMA’s garden shifts with the times, and stays abreast of taste and trends, moreover, UCLA’s maintains a permanent collection of classic 20th century sculpture, most of it bronze, some of it steel, and, by L.A. standards, all looking like it’s been there for a rather long time. There’s The Standing Man by Rodin, a great, brushed Cubi by David Smith, and a host of other things by artists less well known, such as Sorel Etrog’s Mother and Child. Taken together, the works in the garden speak that rather strong universalizing language of modern art.
Ken Price, 100% Pure, 2005 © Ken Price, photo © Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of LACMA
Near the Garden’s south edge there’s a sculpture by Jean Arp that always seems a bit dirtier and more tarnished than the others; it’s one of our favorites. Standing about head high, it makes a claim on the figurative with its folds and bumps, its swellings and bulge, without becoming quite what one would call a body. Before we looked at its placard we liked to imagine that it was called “The Schnoz,” but, in fact, it has an even better name, Hybrid Fruit Called Pagoda, from 1934. Apart from the irreverent incongruities characteristic of Surrealism (Arp could write — a bit wistfully even — about the feet of morning, noon and evening traipsing around “pickled buttocks”), the work’s title calls attention to itself by bringing in the act of naming — it’s a hybrid fruit, but it’s called pagoda. The possibilities of titling — limitless and arbitrary, decisive or playful — on which Arp’s appellation lingers suggests the ways that abstract forms chaotically (re)connect with the world. In any case, we were walking by this sculpture the other day, and having just seen the Ken Price show at LACMA, we were struck by the similarity between Arp’s work and a number of the curving, suggestive, “biomorphic” forms on view in the Resnick Pavilion. Price’s Mountain Balls (2006), for example, or his Altoon (2005), are also kinds of hybrid fruits: sweet, fatty, full of cartilage and no bone. (Though we’re not sure we’d want to call them pagodas, there are other Price works that would fit the bill.) If you want to get into differences though, the differences are color, surface, and the stuff from which Price’s works a...read more