Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: California Ceramics

May 15, 2019

The first major trends of decorative pottery in the US were animated by German and English artisans who migrated to the country in the 17th and 18th centuries. These ceramicists established factories and schools on the East Coast and, for the most part resisted, the period’s westward impulses. When Californian ceramists became active in the early 20th century, their geographic independence from long-standing ceramic capitals meant that they weren’t bound by the traditions of their trade or by a preexisting critical infrastructure. A variety of works featured in the May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction help chart the history of California’s innovative and untethered ceramic practices.

Glen Lukens Ceramics
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

As one of the earliest artist-teachers in California ceramics, Glen Lukens popularized a rough, organic aesthetic that proposed a visual counter-argument to the sleek and precise techniques of his predecessors. Through his investigation of natural mineral deposits and alkaline compositions, Lukens perfected his crackle glazes which, when pooled and dripped, as seen in Shallow Bowl (c. 1939), Bowl (c. 1945), and Vase (c. 1940), produced a sense of drama. These glazes also ensured that each execution was entirely unique, an idea central to the studio pottery movement in which Lukens was a pioneer. In addition to Lukens’ aesthetic contributions to the field, Lukens developed one of the earliest electric kilns, in collaboration with his students. Prior to Lukens’ engineering, schools and studios were unable to maintain in-house pottery kilns due to their size and emissions.

David Cressey, Earth Cells #2, designed c. 1965
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Founded in 1950 in Los Angeles by Max and Rita Lawrence, Architectural Pottery produced pieces that complimented the increasingly popular modern architecture styles propagated by Art and Architecture’s Case Study Home project. With the designs of artists such as La Gardo Tackett and David Cressey, the company offered works characterized by clean, geometric lines and polished, unembellished surfaces. This new breed of indoor/outdoor decorative objects was embraced by Case Study architects and was featured prominently in many of Julius Shulman’s iconic photographs.

Peter Voulkos, Wall-hanging charger, executed 1978
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

As the father of the California Clay Movement, Peter Voulkos rejected the smooth tailoring of mid-century ceramic trends in favor of a gestural style that foregrounded materiality. Informed by his relationships with Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage, Voulkos conceived the ceramic application of Abstract Expressionism.  By the 1970s, he began exploring a minimalist aesthetic, as illustrated by Wall-hanging charger (executed 1978). Voulkos integrated a monochromatic palette and a transparent glaze with minimal intercessions, such as Wall-hanging charger’s pass-throughs, to expose the natural variations in the clay’s tone and texture.

Sterling Ruby, Untitled, executed 2010
May 19, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Understanding his ceramic works as “case studies in art therapy,” multi media artist, Sterling Ruby turned to clay as a gestural respite from the theoretical pressures of postmodern art. According to Ruby, ceramics remain a “non-hierarchical” medium in which form, function, and concept present themselves simultaneously and therefore abandon the critical restraints imposed by alternatives such as painting. Within his ceramic works, Ruby analyzes the craft heritage of his material while also ushering sociological and psychological themes.


Lot 118
Glen Lukens
Studio, executed c. 1940
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
4.5″ x 6.5″ diameter; (11 x 17 cm)

Estimate: $3,000–5,000

Lot 119
Glen Lukens
Studio, executed c. 1945
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
2.25″ x 10″ diameter; (6 x 25 cm)

Estimate: $3,000–5,000

Lot 120
Glen Lukens
Studio, executed c. 1940
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
3″ x 11″ diameter; (8 x 28 cm)

Estimate: $4,000–6,000

Lot 121
Glen Lukens
Shallow bowl
Studio, executed c. 1939
Partially glazed ceramic
Signed “Glen Lukens” to underside
1.375″ x 7.5″ diameter; (3 x 19 cm)

Estimate: $3,000–5,000

Lot 122
La Gardo Tackett
Double cone planters (2)
Architectural Pottery, designed c. 1955
Model no. TH-104
One stamped “Architectural Pottery/Made in USA”
27.125″ x 18.75″ diameter; 25.25″ x 17.5″ diameter; (69 x 48 cm)
Literature  Architectural Pottery. Manufacturer cat. 1961. 13.

Estimate: $1,500–2,000

Lot 125
David Cressey
Earth Cells #2
Architectural Pottery, designed c. 1965
25″ x 18″ x 6″; (64 x 46 x 15 cm)
Provenance  Drs. Kato and S.L. Pomer Collection
Literature  California Design Nine. Pasadena Art Museum exh. cat. 1965. 76.

Estimate: $5,000–7,000

Lot 126
David Cressey
Ceramic vessel
Architectural Pottery, designed c. 1965
Model no. 4030, from the Pro/Artisan series
18.375″ x 12″ diameter; (47 x 31 cm)
Literature  Architectural Pottery: The Pro/Artisan Collection. Manufacturer cat. 1971. N.pag.

Estimate: $800–1,200

Lot 113
Peter Voulkos
Wall-hanging charger
Studio, executed 1978
Stoneware with porcelain pass-throughs and partial cobalt oxide slip/engobe and clear glaze
Signed and dated to underside
4″ x 24″ diameter; (10 x 61 cm)

Estimate: $6,000–8,000

Lot 124
Sterling Ruby
Glazed ceramic
Initialed and dated to underside
7.75″ x 12.25″ x 1.625″; (20 x 31 x 4 cm)
Provenance  Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist, 2010)

Estimate: $8,000–12,000

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