OAKLAND, California––Viola Frey: Center Stage at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art (Napa, February 23 – December 29, 2019) marked Frey’s (1933 – 2004) first major museum survey on the West Coast since 1981. The exhibition featured more than 100 objects in ceramics, painting, drawing, and bronze spanning four decades (1963 to 2002).
Featured image: Viola Frey, H.K. in Doorway, 1978, Ceramic and glazes26 1/2 × 26 × 3 1/2 inches
Frey, an avid feminist, is best known for her colossal (some standing as tall as eight feet) brightly colored ceramic sculptures of emotionally charged, middle-class suit and tie-clad urbanites, many exploring symbols of power.
Monumental ceramic works including The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization(1992) and China Goddess Group(1979-81) will be shown alongside early works from the 1960s and ‘70s for the first time, presenting an unprecedented look at the artist’s thinking and process. This large-scale presentation will occupy di Rosa’s 8,500-square-foot Gallery 2 exhibition space marking the first time the gallery has been devoted to the work of a single artist. The exhibition draws from a mix of di Rosa’s extensive holdings with generous loans from Artists’ Legacy Foundation and private collections.
Frey helped expand ceramics beyond figurines and decorative plates along with her colleagues tearing down the barrier between craft and fine art, as Mary Rourke wrote at the time of the artist’s death in 2004 for the Los Angeles Times.
Like ceramicists Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson, who pioneered the California Funk movement in the 1960s and ‘70s, Frey used her material in imaginative ways. Artists’ clay should not be limited to Grecian-style vases, cups and bowls, she believed.
Ken Johnson of The New York Times called Frey’s work, which incorporated found objects like animals and toys into “gaudily glazed assemblages,” as both “kitschy and compelling.”
The works showed an ambition to escape the genteel associations of traditional ceramics. But it was not until she veered toward life-size realism that she found her own distinctively personal voice.
Viola Frey: Center Stage has been curated by Amy Owen in conjunction with Artists’ Legacy Foundation, Oakland, California. www.artistslegacyfoundation.org. Frey became ALF’s first Legacy Artist after her death in 2004 bequeathing her artwork, archives and estate to the Foundation.
About the artist: Viola Frey was born in Lodi, California in 1933, and died in Oakland in 2004. She received her BFA and an honorary doctorate from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and attended graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans. She was awarded two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and received the Award of Honor in Sculpture from the Arts Commission of San Francisco, as well as many other grants and awards. Frey’s work is held in numerous public and private collections worldwide.
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