Giotto di Bondone, "The Peruzzi Altarpiece," 1310-15, tempera… (Getty Museum, Getty Museum )
Ken Price, the great Los Angeles sculptor who died in February at 77, always operated just below the threshold of first-tier international acclaim. Widely admired by a knowledgeable coterie of collectors, critics and other artists, he had the dubious misfortune to work with clay — an art material that, despite its ancient pedigree, languishes in a modern ghetto.
All that is poised to change. "Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective" kicks off the fall art season Sept. 16 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art before traveling to museums in Texas and New York. Prepare to be bowled over.
The timing will surely make a difference. Price's retrospective is the first comprehensive solo show of a major figure following on the heels of Pacific Standard Time, the mammoth array of group surveys of L.A.'s emergence as an artistic powerhouse in the decades following World War II. As a bonus, the installation has been designed by Frank Gehry; a friend of the artist for half a century, he was guided into becoming an architect by Glen Lukens, another ceramic artist.
FALL ARTS PREVIEW: Critic's Picks
At first blush, the expected venue for an overdue Price retrospective might be the Museum of Contemporary Art. The internationally admired museum was founded more than three decades ago to provide a platform for recent art — including, not incidentally, under-acknowledged art made in L.A.
But today MOCA is in turmoil. Questions about funding issues, the seriousness of purpose in its art program, the competence of its board of trustees and more have swirled for the last six months, with no end in sight.
That's a shame. MOCA had a near-death experience in 2008, when a collapsing national economy exposed severe financial mismanagement in both the director's office and the boardroom. Four years later, stability remains elusive.
A clear signal of the lingering trouble was the original June announcement, since reversed, that a chief curator was no longer required to develop MOCA's excellent permanent collection and lead its adventurous exhibition program. Assumptions that a museum post of central importance is unnecessary give one pause.
Still, the fall art season has great promise overall. The breadth of Southern California museum offerings is especially provocative. Two potentially engaging shows, scheduled long ago, even remain on MOCA's docket.
OCT. 6-JAN. 14
'Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962'
Destruction as a creative act — especially in cut-up, shredded, gouged and otherwise brutalized abstract paintings made in the shell-shocked aftermath of World War II — is examined in 100 works by 25 American, European and Japanese artists. The show is the swan song for former MOCA chief curator Paul Schimmel.
Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., $7-$12; http://www.moca.org
OCT. 13-JAN. 14
'A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War'
More than 150 photographs by Mathew Brady, George Barnard, Alexander Gardner and Andrew J. Russell — all from the Huntington's rarely shown collection — present often brutal pictures of national catastrophe made with the recently invented camera. In the current wake of far-off wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the control of photographic images of death was pronounced, this timely show is likely to be both fascinating and painful.
Boone Gallery, Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino; $8-$23; http://www.huntington.org
OCT. 20-JAN. 20
'The Artful Recluse: Painting, Poetry and Politics in 17th-Century China'
The Imperial Chinese scholar-bureaucrats known as literati retired late in life from court intrigues to the contemplative isolation of rural or mountain enclaves. But being a recluse was less an escape than an immersion into cultural knowledge. The show's nearly 60 paintings — including numerous loans from the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, as well as other collections — date from the late Ming (circa 1600-44) and the early Qing (1644–circa1700) dynasties.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St.; $6-$10; http://www.sbmuseart.org
OCT. 21-JAN. 7
'Blues for Smoke'
MOCA sings the blues in diverse works by 50 American artists from the last half-century. The show is an effort to draw out formal and conceptual relationships between a profoundly moving and influential strain of 20th century African American music and visual art (painting, sculpture and installation) that emerged from the era of the civil rights movement and continues today.
Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., Little Tokyo; $7-$12; http://www.moca.org
OCT. 21-FEB. 3
'Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ'