Author: Anne Bailey/Tuesday, February 21, 2017/Categories: Travel Log
Jim and I visited the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan, New York last week to see the exhibition Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years. Although Peter Voulkos died in 2002, he left a lasting impression on all who knew him. He was a larger than life figure and had an unforgettable presence. Standing next to him and looking him in the eyes was like looking into something that was simultaneously astounding and unnerving. It is a memory I have never forgotten. The work in this show captures the intensity of his personality and the breathtaking creative energy he used in pursuing his work.
We met Peter Voulkos in the mid '70s at Super Mud. He demonstrated his muscular and theatrical throwing techniques and then proceeded to slap and push and assemble the clay in ways that were exciting and daring. Voulkos dazzled the audience with his bravado. It was at once thrilling and terrifying. Before our very eyes, he broke every pottery rule there was. As a person he seemed a little out of control and careening on the edge; almost as if he was burning up inside. Everyone in the audience couldn't take their eyes off him. The velocity with which he worked created a sense of breathlessness in the mostly young college-aged audience. His fierce energy was palpable. It was an electric and extraordinary performance in clay.
"The Breakthrough Years" follows Voulkos's early career from the simple brown domestic pots of the early 1950s to the monumental sculptures and vibrant paintings of the early 1960s, back to his familiar pot assemblages of the late 1960s. It is dizzying to see the variety and scale of his early work. It is chronologically presented which is helpful in creating a time line. All of the work is compelling and exudes a kind of intensity like Voulkos himself.
The show was much more than we expected. The whole third floor of the museum is filled with his work. There were pieces I had never seen and it created an impressive dialogue with this viewer. It was obvious he was reaching for something big, something to feed his ravenous artistic soul. Paintings stand side-by-side with large clay sculptures and his smaller assembled pots. There is no division among his many artistic expressions. They all belong to one vast creative force.
Long before the art world decided that clay could be used for Art, Voulkos really understood that it was, in fact, one of the best materials for making art. I imagine he didn't care what other people thought when he made this work and that is what makes it so enjoyable. Catch it if you can.
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