Peter Voulkos (1924–2002) studied traditional pottery, but as this show focusing on his early years reveals, he quickly tossed the rulebook aside. By the mid-1950s, his accomplished though polite stoneware jars had morphed into large-scale sculptures that mixed abstraction with figuration and blended glazes with paint. The newfound energy drew from the influence of Asian and Latin American pottery in his hometown, Los Angeles, as well as from the potent and pervasive climate where Abstract Expressionism prevailed.
Co-curated by Glenn Adamson, MAD’s former director, and Andrew Perchuk, deputy director of the Getty Research Institute, “Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years” is arranged in six well-paced chronological sections. There are masterful examples in each grouping, including an untitled 1956 stoneware glazed sculpture, lent by the Philadelphia Museum, in the form of a pierced vessel. The towering Little Big Horn (1959) has a lopsided Cubism, with its angled planes painted in blues, grays, and whites. It was exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1960 in a solo show offering up “new talent”; today it stands as a testament to Voulkos’s vigorous development as an artist.
Pictured: Installation view of "Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years," 2016. Courtesy the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. Photo Butcher Walsh.