Just In: Ken Price’s ‘Groota’

August 16, 2018

As a graduate student at what is now the Otis College of Art and Design, Ken Price’s artistic identity sprung from the revolutionary ideas of his mentor, ceramic artist Peter Voulkos. Price’s education leading up to that point had strictly enforced the boundaries of proper artistic mediums, but Voulkos fervently dissolved the established division between fine art and craft. When Price’s own clay works began to attract attention from the art world, critics were quick to compare him to sculptors such as Picasso and Brâncuși, who merely experimented with the ‘lesser’ material.  Defying their predictions, Price further aggravated purist sensibilities when he began to celebrate and adopt traditional Mexican pottery techniques, which had long been excluded from ‘artistic’ study.

Though Price’s earlier series of ceramic cups represent a small episode in his greater body of work, he continued to explore the fundamentals of the shape. The traditionally utilitarian function of “the container” depends equally on its inside and its outside. Holland Cotter of the New York Times observed that “containment itself, put under psychological pressure, became a recurrent subject of Price’s.” The artist’s career-long investigation of the relationship between interiority and exteriority becomes particularly acute in works like Groota (1985), which LAMA is pleased to include in our upcoming September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)
Ken Price, Groota, 1985
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

The tensions between art and craft, interior and exterior, are perfectly articulated in the series of two-piece clay sculptures that Price began working on in the mid-1980s. Described as a “collision of raw and refined surfaces,” Price’s modernist geodes feature rough and organic, opalescent exteriors that are dramatically incised, exposing crisp and highly polished plains of pure, hyper-saturated color. Though Price resisted ascribing meaning to his works, the dramatic interaction of these compositions reflects the quasi-political subtext of his career.

Price admitted that even when he didn’t intend for them to be, his works are inherently carnal. In a 2007 interview he said, “my work has just evolved into these naturally erotic forms.” The sensuality of Groota is most compelling in the dialogue between the two pieces of the sculpture. In addition to the male and female coding of the slender cylindrical element and its larger vessel-like companion, the natural curve of each of the structures reflect one another. The figures are almost magnetically drawn together by their complementary shapes.

Lot Information:

Lot 200
Ken Price

Acrylic and metallic paint on fired clay in two parts
9.5″ x 5″ x 4.5″; 8″ x 6.25″ x 8″
Provenance: Willard Gallery, New York, New York; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, 1986)
Illustrated: Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective. LACMA exh. cat. 2012. 238.
Estimate: $75,000 – $100,000
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction


Barron, Stephanie, and Lauren Bergman. Ken Price Sculpture: a Retrospective. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2012.
Cotter, Holland. “Ken Price: Yes, the Ceramics Are Art.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 June 2013,

Leave a Reply