The astounding work of Ken Price comes into focus with his death a few days ago.
As Roberta Smith notes, he was part of a Los Angeles movement known as "Finish Fetish." The name says it all. Luminous, seductive surfaces were achieved through meticulously applied enamels, resins, lacquers, and automobile paint. As Ed Ruscha puts it, "There was a movement here called the Finish Fetish. It involved artists working in plastics and automotive lacquers and more or less high-tech techniques instead of just canvas painting on an easel." The movement is often related to car culture in Los Angeles, and more generally, to the slick, reflective machined glass and steel surfaces of the modern city, or the new plastics and resins used increasingly for consumer goods in the 1960s.
Yet Price did not use these high tech materials. He used clay and glazes. He was a ceramicist who turned the traditional hierarchy of art and craft on its head. He typically created small scale objects, what are sometimes referred to somewhat dismissively as "table-top sculptures." These powerful forms also defy the hierarchy of scale--Price proves that works need not be large to be high impact.
For more on Finish Fetish and Light and Space, check out this short audio slide show by Peter Schjeldahl of the New Yorker: