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The Albuquerque Journal
Arts & Culture

"Artist Used Nuclear Scraps For Protest"

Journal Staff Writer

Artist Used Nuke Scraps for Protest
Tony Price's humor, materials worked on many levels, curator says

Journal Staff Writer

Tony Price used to swear someone had made the pieces of metal at the salvage yard at Los Alamos National Laboratory just for him.
The late Santa Fe sculptor would take thoserelics of nuclear weapons production and craft them into fierce-looking statements against nuclear proliferation.
"Tony had this uncanny ability to see how these different parts could combine to produce a sculpture of a certain shape or form," said longtime friend and curator James Rutherford. "He didn't manipulate them - he really just assembled them as he found them in the yard. But the end result looked like someone had made this part just for that purpose."
Rutherford is the curator of "Tony Price: Atomic Art," a new show opening Friday and lasting through May 16 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe. Price, who died in 2000 at age 63, had many devoted followers in the anti- nuke 1980s and remains a counterculture icon today, said Rutherford.
"People just GET his work when they understand the materials he's working with," he said. "He has a sardonic and satirical sense of humor that allows the viewers to experience his message on so many different levels, rather than as a purely political statement."
The authenticity of the materials Price used were key to the power of his work, said Rutherford an Albuquerque native who knew Price for more than 20 years and curated several of his shows.
In the 1980s, Los Alamos National Laboratory was required by law to sell its salvage to the public. In those days, much of the metal were scraps left over from actual nuclear tests, said Rutherford.
The dialogue Tony had with the materials was unique to him and certainly unique to New Mexico. This is art that could not have been made anywhere else," he said.
"Los Alamos, to me, was finding a place of just raw, pure materials and fantastically, beautifully shaped metals," explained Price in one of his writings. "I found it a perfect mountain of art to experiment with, to create with, and I'd go out looking for specific parts and sometimes there it'd be, right there, just as if hundreds of men had machined these things for hundreds of hours and carted it out and dumped it right there in front of my feet."
Much of Price's appeal lay in his ability to turn something negative into something positive, said Rutherford. "He really felt he could balance out the demonic forces of the bomb with the positive forces of art," he said.
That quality even drew the attention of the Dalai Lama, who visited New Mexico and saw Price's work in 1991. "He has done something useful with something that is not useful," observed the peace-loving Tibetan leader.
Though Price showed his work in New York City and Santa Fe, he was not a big star within traditional art circles. His work appeared at the New Mexico Governor's Gallery, BioSphere 2 and the Shidoni Sculpture Garden in Tesuque
"All through Tony's career he received a lot more attention from the media and the public than from the art world," said Rutherford. "He didn't go after museum or gallery representation. He was more interested in connecting with the public and his viewers and as a result, I think his work transcends a lot of the traditional labels or categories of the art world."