“We’d all go to the class, and then the first thing we’d do is go off in three cars, driving around town, going to see whatever there was to see in the galleries, drinking coffee and talking. We’d look at a new building going up or a show at a museum. Then we’d talk some more. Then we’d go to work. My purpose was for the students to become aware not only of everything around them but of themselves, to find themselves, to get to the point where they felt they were the complete center of the universe and everything worked around them. Then they could go ahead and work.”
– Peter Voulkos
Franklin Parrasch Gallery is pleased to announce No Rules, No Rules, a group exhibition focused on the enduring spirit and renegade approach of the late, pioneering ceramic sculptor Peter Voulkos (1924-2002). The two-dozen works by fourteen artists that comprise this exhibition span a sixty-year period and shed light on the enduring effects of Voulkos’ energy, reflecting upon the ongoing evolution of that spirit. In addition to Voulkos, Robert Arneson (1930-1992), Lynda Benglis (b. 1941), Billy Al Bengston (b. 1934), Kathy Butterly (b. 1963), Cassie Griffin (b. 1985), Julia Haft-Candell (b. 1982), Mary Heilmann (b. 1940), Andrew Lord (b. 1950), Ron Nagle (b. 1939), Ken Price (1935-2012), Arlene Shechet (b. 1951), Josh Smith (b. 1976), G. William Webb (b.1987), and Jesse Wine (b. 1983) are included in this show.
In 1954, a year following a life-changing summer teaching stint at famed Black Mountain College, where he worked alongside the likes of Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham, Voulkos accepted an invitation by Otis Art Institute (Los Angeles) director Millard Sheets to establish a ceramics program at the school. Starting in an empty basement room with essentially no budget, even less oversight, and a cadre of young art students who were open to whatever he had to offer, Voulkos created his department, along with an entirely new mode of teaching ceramics. As his class quietly gained notoriety, the students he attracted became more diverse in talent, more committed to the intensity of a maniacally productive and fiercely competitive work ethic, and ultimately developed as a legendary group of artists who themselves went on to considerable acclaim and influence. Voulkos manipulated and formed literally tons of clay in ways no one had seen done with the medium before: he worked, they watched; he demonstrated, they absorbed. The teaching style was by osmosis, and Zen was the aesthetic philosophy. The group worked through the night, mostly silent and unrelenting, and the mantra Voulkos extolled— “no rules, no rules”—was the only directive he gave. The class became so well known that people dropped by in droves, often simply to observe.
The Otis Group, as the class—which included Billy Al Bengston, John Mason, Paul Soldner, Michael Frimkess, Ken Price, and Henry Takemoto—came to be known, distinguished little between the hierarchy of student and teacher; they were energized and nurtured by one another to each develop their unique visions of the Voulkos spirit. By the late 1950s, despite Voulkos’ legendary popularity, Sheets was fed up with his unconventional teaching style and fired him. In 1959, Voulkos began a long and revered teaching post at University of California, Berkeley, where his “no rules” posture was not only accepted, it was celebrated. The cultural and political climate at Berkeley throughout the 1960s fostered and contributed to an open forum in which Voulkos’ clay revolution thrived.
During the past six decades, as the stature of clay became established as a valid medium in contemporary art, the context and meaning of Voulkos’ mantra, too, has morphed, adapted, and evolved. Over several generations, artists have embraced and given fresh life to the aesthetic liberty and philosophical energy Voulkos’ attitude embodied.
Voulkos challenged his medium, launching it on an irreversible path to create a previously uncharted dialect—one that converses and integrates vitally with the language of contemporary art. No Rules, No Rules is focused on addressing the longevity and course-changing impact of Voulkos’ continued presence in the discussion of art, outlining both a generational range of artists and the breadth of practices he inspired.
No Rules, No Rules will be on view at Franklin Parrasch Gallery, 53 East 64 Street, New York, from September 16—October 29, 2016. For images, biography, and further information, please contact Katharine Overgaard at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 212-246-5360 during business hours: 10a-6p, Tuesday-Saturday.