Hungry Eyes

Diana Zlotnick and Post-War Art in Los Angeles

Diana Zlotnick arranging artworks at home, accompanied by her family Photo: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

A voracious collector, comm­­unity builder, and champion of emergent contemporary artists, Diana Zlotnick tapped into the Los Angeles art world at a particularly charged moment of post-war creative ferment. Today, the art milieu of the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s Los Angeles has taken on nearly mythic qualities, conjuring Bohemian fetes in canyons, the experimental openness of CalArts, Venice Beach warehouse studios, and, broadly, an explosion of material and conceptual inquiry through performance, sculpture, video, painting, publication, and more. Zlotnick immersed herself wholeheartedly in this atmosphere, led by fearless curiosity, dedication, and deeply felt connections to the works that she brought home.

Collect art that cancels out the rest of the world…—Diana Zlotnick, Newsletter on the Arts, 2013

Born in 1927 and raised in Los Angeles, Diana Zlotnick (née Shirley) attended Fairfax High School and would later support herself as a schoolteacher. She met Harry Zlotnick at a USO dance, and, after a whirlwind romance, the couple married on July 3, 1955. Being a schoolteacher was decidedly not Ms. Zlotnick’s calling, nor was being a dental hygienist (she flunked the program). Encouraged by her husband, who was able to support the family as a veterinarian, Zlotnick stopped working—and started collecting. With determination, savvy, and a healthy dose of chutzpah, she went on to amass an extensive collection from major artists as their stars were rising – among those who most captivated her were Wallace Berman, Chris Burden, Llyn Foulkes, George Herms, Channa Horwitz, Gloria Kisch, Ed Ruscha, and Richard and Shirley Pettibone.

There aren't many collectors like Diana Zlotnick, though there ought to be...Not content to play the passive art consumer, she quickly began circumventing the gallery system, approaching artists directly — visiting studios, exploring work in depth and developing real relationships.

Doug Harvey, L.A. Weekly, October 27, 2005

Peter Voulkos

Few artists can revolutionize an ancient medium, but Peter Voulkos did just that when he brought ceramics into the realm of fine art starting in the late 1950s. Born in Bozeman, Montana in 1924, he studied painting and ceramics at Montana State University and later received his MFA from California College of the Arts in Oakland. While Voulkos began his career by creating utilitarian objects such as bowls and vases that won him wide renown, he began to contemplate abstraction and other fine art principles when he spent the summer of 1953 teaching at Black Mountain College, there he met Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Josef Albers. From there, he visited New York, meeting many of the Abstract Expressionists.

Voulkos returned to California to teach at Los Angeles County Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design) from 1954 to 1959 and it was in this period that his works really began to evolve. As the decade came to a close, Voulkos moved away from creating functional items, instead morphing vase-like structures into sculpture. He slashed the clay in certain instances and aggressively applied paint to the forms like canvas. No longer content to create works that hid their process of creation, Voulkos made the very act of creation paramount to the understanding and appreciation of his work, much like the Abstract Expressionists that he had associated with.

Voulkos’ artistic output piqued the interest of Peter Selz, the Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1960, he invited Voulkos to exhibit six of his paintings alongside a number of his sculptures as part of the New Talent series, one man exhibitions that the museum had been offering since 1950 to artists who had not yet had solo exhibitions in New York. Voulkos used this opportunity to illustrate the connection between painting, the classic example of fine-art, and ceramics. After his show at MoMA, the artist spent the summers of 1960-1962, and 1964 in New York teaching and creating work at the famed Greenwich House Pottery and Columbia University.

Peter Voulkos brought ceramics into the realm of fine art. He died in 2002, but his legacy is remembered in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Auction Results Peter Voulkos