Posts Tagged ‘Jay DeFeo’
This is the second in a series of posts about Peter Voulkos, focused on individual artworks. All images used are copyright of The Estate of Peter Voulkos.
For anyone interested in the sculpture that Peter Voulkos made during his biggest breakthrough years of 1957 to 1960, several works are on view right now. In this post, we’ll take a look at just two of those. I recently went to the new SFMOMA galleries, where the curators have done a marvelous job of contextualizing his work titled Tientos, from 1959. It is wisely placed in a room with works by Mark Rothko, Joan Mitchell, Jay DeFeo, and Philip Guston, and the sculpture more than holds its own in that company. The room is about expressive abstraction, and Voulkos is the sculptor among the painters. Taking wheel-thrown parts, which were sliced, joined, and rearranged as the sculpture was built, Voulkos formed this tall vertical piece.
For Voulkos, who was artistically a builder of form, this meant throwing a series of smaller vessel shapes, and then grafting those together to construct a massive sculpture. Formed by stacking and joining, these sculptures had a raw, primal power. In an interview I did with John Mason in July of 2010, (his studio mate during the late 1950s), his technique was succinctly described:
“Peter’s method of construction, he had already pretty much established when he was at Otis, which was to throw a number of units and let them set up into the leather state. And then begin to construct from those units using traditional methods of construction, which would be cutting, scraping, making a liquid slip, and softening those areas that were scored, and assembling the pieces.”¹
Other elements of the large sculptures were made with a kind of slab building. My best source, again, is John Mason:
“He also would make slabs by putting clay on the concrete floor, first sprinkling a little grog or maybe some clay, and smoothing it out so that the clay would release from the concrete and then stamp it out…that became then for him a slab. As it set up, it was leather hard. While he was constructing with his other elements, he would use material from those floor slabs.”²
It’s important to see these sculptures in person, and encounter the human scale and raw detail of the surface. It’s also necessary to set the record straight about the materials used. In our 2010 interview, Mason made this clear, stating that: “This might be one place to clarify what I sometimes read, by people who should know better, that Peter assembled his pieces with epoxy resins. That’s totally false.”³
One place to see Voulkos’ sculpture in the Los Angeles area (near Pasadena, to be more precise) is at the Norton Simon. Before you enter the museum, to the right of the large Rodin bronzes, sits a 1958 work titled Black Butte Divide. The piece was added to the Pasadena Art Museum collection in 1958, as a purchase from the Voulkos survey show of paintings and sculpture.
¹John Mason, interview with Frank Lloyd, July 2010, unpublished transcript, archives, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College.
In the New York Times this morning, I found some unprecedented news. The above-the-fold story by Holland Cotter, “The East Coast of California,” included his phrase “…an unheard-of convergence here of major California shows.” Below the fold, Mr. Cotter reviewed the Ken Price retrospective at the Metropolitan, while Roberta Smith addressed James Turrell at the Guggenheim, and Ken Johnson wrote about the Llyn Foulkes show at the New Museum.
Unprecedented, indeed—and also amazing that the curatorial work of LACMA’s Stephanie Barron and the Hammer’s Ali Subotnick are again recognized. Not just the artists from the West Coast, but the curatorial vision. Mr. Cotter’s leading line was, “The project [Pacific Standard Time] was a big success and continues to generate energy.”
How vindicated do the PST folks at the Getty Research Institute feel? Pretty strongly justified, if you look at Project Specialist Glenn Phillips’ Facebook post. The Yale-trained art historian noted “Many people claimed that Pacific Standard Time would never have more than local impact, particularly in relation to New York,” and goes on to cite the three exhibits of Price, Turrell, and Foulkes as well as the current “State of Mind” show at PS1, the Paul McCarthy installation at the Armory, and the upcoming full-floor installation by Robert Irwin at the Whitney. (Let’s not forget about Jay DeFeo, the San Francisco painter whose Whitney retrospective just closed earlier this month.)
I don’t want this post to seem like a laundry list, but it’s also a matter of record that “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980” appeared at MoMA’s PS1 last year, and that “Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987” had a run at Williams College (alma mater of many U.S. museum curators and directors). “California Design, 1930-1965: ‘Living in a Modern Way,” continues its worldwide tour, and Wendy Kaplan’s publication is now in its 4th printing. PST is having a lasting effect.
Back in October 13, 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s critic Peter Plagens (who is a former Angeleno) questioned, “isn’t PST preaching to the choir?” It’s obvious that’s just not true.