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Peter Voulkos

View of “Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years,” 2016–17, Museum of Arts and Design, New York. On plinths, from left: Little Big Horn, 1959; Tientos, 1959; Sitting Bull, 1959; USA 41, 1960; Red River, ca. 1960. On wall: Falling Red, 1958. Photo: Butcher Walsh.

“VOULKOS: THE BREAKTHROUGH YEARS,” currently on view at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, seeks to do more than simply insist on the reputation of its subject, the renowned ceramist Peter Voulkos, as an exponent of Abstract Expressionism. Instead, the exhibition recontextualizes the significance of this revolutionary artist, presenting him as an agent of the mid-twentieth century’s radical transformation of the very categories of sculpture, pottery, and painting. Focusing specifically on the period from 1954 through 1968, the show illuminates Voulkos’s profound rethinking of the craft tradition, reenvisioning that tradition as a direct and active engagement of the human imagination with materiality itself.

As “The Breakthrough Years” clearly demonstrates, the trajectory of the Montana-born, California-based artist’s work would be forever altered when, in the summer of

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