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Ken Price, Cups, 1991–1992


Meret Oppenheim, Object, 1936, fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon, Museum of Modern Art. © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Pro Litteris, Zurich

Ken Price (American, 1935–2012) once declared, “I just like the cup.” Since the 1960s, he has subjected cups to endless variation, embellishment, and decoration, by turns surreal, ribald, and whimsical. “The cup essentially presents a set of formal restrictions—sort of a preordained structure,” he has said, “it can be used as a vehicle for ideas.” Beyond a modular unit ripe for repetition and innovation, Price has described the cup as “a real kind of primal idiom,” a reference that jibes with the symbolism of hollow vessels as female in Christian, Freudian, and art historical contexts. For instance, Meret Oppenheim’s surrealist fur-covered teacup, of which Price was an admirer, has been read as a visual pun on female genitalia. The word “cup” also carries mammary connotations, a “primal” resonance to which Price has alluded: “It’s right in your hand, and you actually put it to your mouth and drink warm liquid from it.”


Ken Price, Figurine Cup V (detail), 1970, lithograph, Gift of Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist, 1991. © Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist (click on detail for full image)

Price also made prints, many of which feature cup imagery, at Gemini. In 1970, for instance, he made the six-print Figurine Cup Series, in which cups are adorned by nude women. In order to produce these prints, Price had Gemini construct a massive plaster replica of a ceramic cup of his own design. Price then posed and photographed a nude model with the giant plaster cup. A selection of the resulting photographs were edited, retouched, and incorporated into a range of domestic, abstract, and surreal pictorial settings. The Figurine Cup Series calls to mind versions of erotic pin-ups or pornographic imagery, an intentional choice on the artist’s part that underscores his association of cups and female bodies, while also suggesting an analogue between the desires stimulated by luxury commodities, decorations, and female bodies; objects and objectification.

Click below for a slideshow of Price's Figurine Cup Series.

Banner image: Detail, Ken Price, North of El Prado (detail), 1992, glazed earthenware, Gift of Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist, 2015.© Gemini G.E.L. and the Artist