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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

1924 - 2002
Untitled Vase/Stack

40 1/2 x 12 x 12 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection
Gift of the Morgan Foundation

Arts of North America

Peter Voulkos has been rightly celebrated as one of the most important contemporary ceramists worldwide. Over the course of his 50-year career, he challenged historical attitudes about the nature of clay and revolutionized aesthetics. During the mid-20th century, he established California as the center for avant-garde ceramic art in America.

Voulkos created his breakthrough ceramics in Los Angeles from 1954 to 1959. In addition to making and breaking the structure of pots, he created monumental sculptures that were, in essence, a combination of thrown and slab-built elements assembled into towering, expressionistic constructions. From about 1968 to 1978, Voulkos made a series of large-scale vases, such as this Vase/Stack, that emerged from the sculptures of the 1950s. Their totemic structures were created from a set of controlled, wheel-thrown cylinders that were stacked on top of each other. Voulkos employed a series of tools and techniques to alter the surfaces of these works. They included plunging knives into the surface and cutting ragged lines; adding small balls of clay into cut interstices; pressing holes into the vessel with his thumbs (called pass-throughs); and otherwise tearing and patching the clay. As this example shows, his strategic interventions articulated rather than obliterated the vessel form, liberating it from the weight of history and changing its aesthetic.