BY Michael Darling in Reviews | 09 SEP 99

An antidote to chronic art world jadedness is the discovery that an artist who is not in his or her 20s, nor fresh out of a hip art school, nor with a solid schedule of intern-ational, vaguely-themed group shows, is still capable of making work that is pressingly relevant. If that artist has been exhibiting since the early 60s, had a solo show at the Whitney in 1969, and still makes red-hot work in 1999, it is enough to restore one's faith in the value of long-term career perspectives. Ken Price's newest body of work argues such a case.

In 1996, Price held an exhibition of new ceramic sculptures at L.A. Louver that reintroduced this master-in-our-midst to the Los Angeles art audience, displaying a combination of comic irreverence and technical virtuosity that was wholly in-step with the concerns of the current generation of artists. His most recent show at the gallery maintains that momentum, while cranking up both the playfulness and art historical allusion that always lurks just beneath his tantalising surfaces. In this newest grouping of pedestal-bound sculptures, amorphous blobs of clay rise up and come to life, only to be forced to grapple with their unruly bodies and innate sexuality. Confusing matters further for these creatures are their gaudy, speckled skins of metallic paint which are often at odds with their formal personalities. Zigzag (all works 1999), for instance, has been given an eye-catching coating of pearlescent magenta which only partially obscures green, pink and blue underpainting, made visible through an all-over dot pattern of surface abrasions. Its extroverted colouring, however, does not correlate with its shy and uncertain bodily composure, which barely musters the energy to convulse its amoebic form into an upright position. An exposed spout marked by a dark circular hole is made visible on the underbelly, but is hardly threatening. Such is not the case with Flatso, where a shmoo in midnight blue rears up and flashes its primordial member at the viewer as if to shoot us with something sticky. The formal dynamism of this work, not to mention its psychological chutzpah, makes it stand out, but it is the art historical pedigree which really lends it significance. The sensuous, abstract musculature of the form cannily recalls the early Modern sculpture of Henry Moore or Gaston Lachaise, joining that figurative tradition with the low-brow narratives of science fiction and Saturday morning cartoons. Combining the car culture aesthetic of the hand-rubbed paint job and the early anti-form effusions of Lynda Benglis and you have a dazzlingly multilingual hybrid.

Price only falters when he toes the most literal edge of his protozooic universe, such as in Half Mast, where a limp penile shape in icy blue, sags dejectedly on its pedestal. Thankfully, Half Mast is anomalous within the wide-range of Price's recent output, yet still tellingly hints at the fun the artist continues to have at this stage in his career. If one considers the trajectory of the newest work, beginning with the large, bulbous, and vaguely geological pieces that filled Price's breakthrough 1996 show, on to the pre-animal forms that grace this one, there seems to emerge a meta-narrative that's enticingly Darwinian. It is hard to imagine what will rise next from Price's fecund kiln if he follows this line of development, yet it should come as no surprise if ever more beguiling forms emerge to challenge the staid reputation of ceramic sculpture.