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Ceramic sculpture

Ceramic sculpture refers to three-dimensional artworks made of clay and to the campaign that elevated clay from a crafts material (even in the hands of Pablo Picasso or Joan Miró) to the stuff of sculpture. The granddaddy of that campaign was Peter Voulkos, who arrived at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1954 and moved on to the University of California at Berkeley in 1959. During the 1950s, he and John Mason, Ken Price, and Billy Al Bengston worked on solving the technical problems involved in making clay forms of unprecedented size and shape.

Their work—and that of the ceramic sculptors who followed them—increasingly referred not to traditional craft forms but to high art: Voulkos’s nonfunctional plates and vessels are linked to the gesturalism of Abstract Expressionism; Mason’s floor pieces to Minimalism; Richard Shaw’s trompe-l’oeil still lifes to New Realism; and Robert Arneson’s tableaux and objects to Pop art.

Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.