Ken Price's Broken Cups
Commissioned directly by the architect Gene Summers, Ken Price created — and then broke — this series of ceramic cups for a custom installation at La Palme restaurant at the Summers-renovated Newporter Resort Hotel. Summers was personally taken with Price’s work, prints and ceramics that boasted an irreverent graphic style inflected with influences from both Los Angeles and the American Southwest, where Price first maintained a studio in 1970. When La Palme re-opened in the early 1980s, it was designed “as a showplace of sorts for the ceramics of Ken Price,” according to Orange Coast Magazine, and featured a turquoise wall with recessed, lighted niches that displayed Price’s vessels.
The cup itself was a longtime fascination for Price, who addressed the utilitarian form in countless ways throughout his career. Describing the cup as “a real kind of primal idiom,” Price would not only turn and paint his own ceramic cups but also rendered them in drawings and prints — in 1970, Gemini G.E.L. constructed a massive plaster cup so that Price could photograph a model posing with it, which would become the basis for his six-print Figurine Cup Series.
While there seems to be little documentation about Price’s choice to make and break his cups for La Palme, the theme appears in at least several of his works on paper — both before and after the Summers commission. In this sense, Broken Cups is a rare materialization of one particular chapter in Price’s ongoing investigation of the cup form. Arranged like archaeological artifacts, these cups have the distinction that they were both made and destroyed by the artist’s hand — and have lived to tell the tale.