November 15, 2019 Taos, New Mexico

The Harwood Museum of Art

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Ken Price, "Death Shrine I" from "Happy's Curios"

Ken Price, "Death Shrine I" from the "Happy's Curios" series, photo by Tina Larkin
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In December 2010 the Harwood Museum of Art installed Ken Price's "Death Shrine I" from the "Happy's Curios" series.  This work is on long-term loan to the Harwood from a private collector.

Lauren Steinberg of the Daily Serving writes:

"Ken Price is best known for his psychedelic ceramic sculptures: abstractions layered in paint and sanded to pristine finishes. His piece Death Shrine I (1972–1976), permanently installed at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, is an unexpected departure from this canon. The shrine is a facet of Price’s Happy’s Curios project, and is one of three such installations inspired by the iconography of Día de Muertos. Death Shrine I, the only piece from the series currently on public view, is part of a contemporary collection at the Harwood, donated in 2013 by artist and collector Gus Foster. The collection crystallizes the relationship between Taos and Los Angeles within a museum honoring northern New Mexico’s long history as an artist colony.[1] In the early 1970s, Price semi-permanently moved from his hometown Los Angeles to the ambient Taos. He was the first among his cohorts; Foster, Larry Bell, Ron Cooper, Ron Davis, Lee Mullican, and others soon followed.

In Taos, Price embarked on his six-year-long project Happy’s Curios, which pays homage to Mexican folk pottery through the process of rigorous replication. His spirited pieces, handmade ceramic cups, plates, and servingware, were thoughtfully displayed in custom-built wood cabinets. Through Happy’s Curios, Price genuinely sought to represent the thoughtful yet nonchalant craftsmanship of the pottery he admired. It was one of the first projects in which qualities of the Southwest were interpreted in his work. Later, his drawings and watercolors were hallucinatory takes on the landscape. Even when the connection is less direct, as with his ceramic abstractions, Price’s organic shapes and color palette seem inspired by the exaggerated topography and intense sunsets of northern New Mexico. Taos, where the Rocky Mountains collide with canyonland, drew artists like Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe.


Perhaps Happy’s Curios depended on Price’s move to Taos, where he could engage in fantasy. In fact, he had planned on renting a storefront for his pottery: an installation set in harmony to the folk curio shops in northern New Mexico. In 1978, Price’s project was exhibited at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Maurice Tuchman, who curated the exhibition, described Price’s process as transcendent.[2] Price identified with a certain sensibility, work ethic, and demeanor in the village pottery artisans. Through the assimilation of material and process, Price desired his work to emerge with authenticity. Thus, Happy’s Curios has been appropriately characterized as being autobiographical. Despite the LACMA exhibition, Price felt the Happy’s Curios project was never completed. Contributing factors may have been financial, but it was likely due to the lead. Price was poisoned by the traditional glazing process and had to seek medical treatment.[3]"

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