Ceramic artist Peter Voulkos (1924 – 2002) reshaped expectations around the ceramic medium, and created a varied body of work both in abstract and pottery forms. Spanning the years 1953–1968, the exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York is the first to focus exclusively on the early career of ceramic artist Peter Voulkos. And today, since artists increasingly turn to ceramics for its expressive possibilities, his work seems more relevant than ever.
In the words of Glenn Adamson, the co-curator of the exhibition, “Nearly everyone involved in ceramic art has a Voulkos story to tell. He was a charismatic figure, and his influence was tremendously important for the history of the medium. This exhibition gets past the personality, and follows the progression of his ideas in this crucial period of his career. It is fascinating to see him wrestling his materials into new forms, producing one breakthrough moment after another.”
Initially trained as a traditional potter, Voulkos defied mid-century craft dictums of proper technique and form to completely reinvent clay as a medium. He combined wheel throwing with slab building, traditional glazes with epoxy paint, figuration with abstraction, and made huge sculptural structures with complex internal engineering. Rocking Pot, an iconic early example, is a massive upside-down bowl punctured with saber-like forms penetrating the exterior walls. Intentionally kinetic, the sculpture is a mockery of the rule that properly made ceramics should never rock on a flat surface.
Though Voulkos would continue to work in bronze, paint, and printmaking for the remainder of his career, ceramics was the medium he always found the most instinctive: “Now me and a ball of clay, we’ll get together and it’s perfect,” he once said. “I almost feel I could take a pile of rough sand and make a pot out of it.” The exhibition will feature approximately 30 examples from this crucial body of early work in ceramic, most of which have not been exhibited on the East Coast for four decades. Also included will be three of the artist’s rarely seen mixed-media paintings, which help to demonstrate how Voulkos developed his ideas concurrently in painting, sculpture, and pottery.
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