Peter Voulkos: A Poster
A poster from Peter Voulkos’ first show in Los Angeles hangs over my desk. This bold graphic image, advertising the exhibition by the acclaimed young Voulkos, marks the beginning of a regional legacy, which would prove to have international significance. At the Felix Landau Gallery on March 26, 1956, the role of the gallery in promoting contemporary ceramics began a new phase. Felix Landau was, by most accounts, the best gallerist in town. He began to exhibit Voulkos in a gallery that also showed the finest painting and sculpture of the time. Collectors, curators and critics–outside of the insular world of potters–saw Peter’s ceramics at this exhibit.
The poster shows, of course, the influence of Picasso. The artist had seen reproductions of work by Picasso, Miro and Artigas. Bold brushwork and a kind of abstract still-life motif dominate the hand-formed graphics. This bridge to Picasso and the world of painting was appropriate to the gallery, since works by Miro, Klee and Matisse were shown in Los Angeles at the time. In fact, as historian Henry Hopkins has noted, Picasso’s work was exhibited at Frank Perls Gallery in the 1950s. Voulkos showed pottery and paintings at Felix Landau’s gallery, and the 1956 show caused a sensation. It is important to note that the show was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times and Craft Horizons in 1956, and the work was purchased by several prominent collectors in Los Angeles.
Many writers have focused on the years when Voulkos taught at Los Angeles County Art Institute, later called Otis Art Institute. This is a story that has become, in the words of one critic, “a favorite bedtime story”. Yes, there was a great confluence of talent in the company of a charismatic and inventive leader in the Otis group. However, in order for the work to reach a wider audience, and for value to be assigned to that work, the commercial gallery was absolutely essential. The works on this page show that beginning.
The exhibition at Felix Landau Gallery marks the beginning of the influence of Voulkos’ work. How did the gallery make a difference? It gave his work a wide exposure to an art audience, it provided a forum for discussion and it made connections with collectors, curators and critics. The successful gallery exhibition serves as an example for other artists, and can even inspire another dealer. Decades later, this legacy is an inspiration to the mission of my gallery. I will be continuing to write about this legacy in future posts.