The Incorrect Museum: Pot Palace

About

In 1959, Peter Voulkos began teaching ceramics at the University of California at Berkeley, establishing a “pot palace” in the basement of the University Art Museum. It was a vibrant, round-the-clock scene where artists—including Stephen De Staebler, Jim Melchert, Manuel Neri, Ron Nagle and Richard Shaw, among others—gathered to talk about art and life. Voulkos performed vivid demonstrations of his creative process and at night, when he wasn’t working, sipped scotch and played flamenco guitar with his fellow artists.

“Pete was the magnet for all this creative energy,” said Ron Nagle, whose small, intricate pieces are the opposite of Voulkos’ ruggedly beautifully—and resolutely non-functional— stacked pots and slashed plates. “He was the real deal, a consummate artist. To be around that kind of energy and presence and charisma was inspiring. He didn’t talk a lot about art; he taught by example.” This performative pedagogy was key. He demonstrated that, as De Staebler later wrote: “The performance, the process of making anything—and most certainly art—is the art.”

Voulkos’ pot palace became the seat of a revolution in ceramics, leading to a reconsideration of clay from the identity of a utilitarian craft to fine art. He and his disciples trusted the material and their intuitive power with it, committing themselves to the energy that grew from this interaction.

"Pete was the magnet for all this creative energy." — Ron Nagle

Peter Voulkos, 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘵𝘦, 1973, 21 1/2 × 21 1/2 × 4 1/2 inches.

artworks in pot palace

origins: pot palace

Private: The Incorrect Museum: Pot Palace

About

A revolution in ceramics took place in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Artists working with clay were able to free themselves from the technical rigidity and intimidation of traditional methods.

Peter Voulkos challenged the medium and dared to push its limits. He trusted the material and what it would do and his own intuitive power with it; he committed himself to the energy that grew from this interaction. It was a contagious attitude that affected not only his students, but also his colleagues. People such as Stephen de Staebler, Jim Melchert, Mauel Neri, Ron Nagle and Richard Shaw were caught up in his passion for and insistence on, making art with clay.

He began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley in 1959. It was there that he  established the “pot palace” in the basement of a building where the University Art Museum stood for many years. It was a hotbed of invention, a vibrant round-the-clock scene where artists gathered to talk about art and life. At night, when he wasn’t working, Voulkos would sip scotch and play flamenco guitar with his fellow artists.

Pete was the magnet for all this creative energy,” said Ron Nagle, a retired Mills College professor whose small, intricate pieces are the opposite of Voulkos’ ruggedly beautiful stacked pots and slashed plates. “He was the real deal, a consummate artist. To be around that kind of energy and presence and charisma was inspiring. He didn’t talk a lot about art; he taught by example. He was incredibly generous, opening doors for a lot of people. He was a successful artist who shared everything.”  Among his most important acts was his use of the aesthetics of destruction as fundamental to his creative force. This pedagogy influenced all of the artists working at this time and led to what historians now consider a revolutionary reconsideration of the definitions of craft and fine art.

Peter Voulkos in Glendale Boulevard studio, ca. 1959-60, Los Angeles, California Photo by Henry T. Takemoto

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