A rare bronze sculpture by a ceramics innovator will soon take up residence on the second floor of the Center for the Arts building.
Ken Price created “The Magic Thumb” in 1995, and although the material is unusual, the piece’s organic quality is a staple of the artist’s body of work, according to Visual Arts and Media Studies Professor Brian Tucker.
“Many of his pieces have these biomorphic forms that suggest flesh,” said Tucker. “A lot of them have an erotic suggestion.”
The distinctive feature of this piece is an opening in the front that resembles the mouth of a sinister cave.
“He had a lot of things to do with interiors and exteriors, and this piece has this irregular opening where you look into this darkness,” said Tucker.
Price was instrumental in elevating ceramics beyond the utilitarian, beginning in the late 1950s as a student of Peter Voulkos at the Los Angeles County Art Institute, later renamed the Otis School of Art and Design, according to Tucker.
“He was one of the innovators in making clay a fine art medium against the background of abstract expressionist painting and sculpture,” he said.
While he could not speculate on the dollar value of the piece, Tucker said that Price was a significant enough presence in the art world to merit a considerable figure.
“I would imagine that because he had these major museum retrospectives in New York and Los Angeles, plus some other factors that make him and his work look good to contemporary audiences, I would guess that the value of his work has appreciated,” he said.
At the time of his death at age 77 in 2012, Price was working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on a retrospective exhibition and book celebrating his prolific career that spanned over six decades, including over 10 years as a professor of ceramics at the University of Southern California from 1993 to 2003.
The LACMA exhibition went ahead in September 2012 with the artist’s close friends and colleagues adding their memories of him to the program.
“Kenny Price was the first and still the best contemporary sculptor to employ the full power of color: its physicality, its weight, density, and unique ability to articulate form and feelings,” wrote noted installation artist Robert Irwin.
“I was honored to be in his presence and to sit in meetings with him,” added photographer and filmmaker Sharon Lockhart, a colleague of Price at USC. “He was a kind, laid-back man who was eternally inspired.”
According to VAMS Associate Dean Joseph Futtner, philanthropist Mary Lou Boone donated the piece several years ago, and it was originally slated for display in the Boone Sculpture Garden.
The donation of the piece is one of many fine art contributions that the Boone family has made to PCC, and Futtner indicated that their support touches many other communities.
“They have supported the arts very significantly not only through PCC, but through other efforts as well,” said Futtner. “Most importantly, with their contribution to the Boone Gallery at the Huntington Galley.”
The VAMS department is anticipating that the piece will be displayed by mid-October.