Thank you very much to the Internet Archive for providing this incredible and historic Whitney Museum of American Art (1981) exhibition catalog from Six Artists, a pointed celebration of ceramic in Southern California. Its now available in cfile.campus. If you are a member, view the catalog or begin your 30-day free trial.
Feature Image: Ken Price, S. L. Green, 1963, Lacquer and acrylic on stoneware
“The six artists in this exhibition began, for the most part, as studio potters, and the sources of their ideas were in the crafts tradition. When the problems they set for themselves went beyond the handling of materials to show technical achievement, and addressed problems of perception, scale, inherent energy, implied human presence, or psychological challenge, the work transcended craft and became a force in painting and sculpture. It was still possible for these ceramicists to use a cup, plate, or vase form, but the end product invariably defied a functional use.”
In this exhibition, Six Artists, the Whitney recognizes ceramic sculpture as a integral slice of Contemporary Art. Essayist Susan Foley makes the distinction between craft and ceramic art, spelling out the seemingly never-ending controversy between the two that we often skim over in history conversations today. In the essay, Foley calls for ceramic art to be judged by the same criteria as contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, and other fine art mediums. History is made.
This catalog essay is of particular note because of the way the authors particularize the weight of Peter Voulkos, Kenneth Price, John Mason, Robert Arneson, Richard Gilhooly, Robert Shaw…on ceramic expression. These men (and I emphasize men because there were very few women associated with this movement, other than the lovers/muses, of course) were influenced by a number of things including their location in Los Angeles, where overall attitudes were more relaxed and the climate was ripe for experimentation. According to Foley, the distance from the New York art-world allowed them to investigate beyond the confines of their material. Foley goes into detail about each of these sculptors, and their creative relationships with one another.
Do you love or loathe this catalog from the worlds of contemporary ceramic art and contemporary ceramics? Share your thoughts in the comments.