Viola Frey: Ceramic Sculptor of the Anthropocene

The first image in “Viola Frey: Center Stage,” supersized on an atrium wall of the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa, California, and printed on the cover of the exhibition pamphlet, is a photograph of the artist in 1996. She stands inside one of her just-larger-than-life ceramic female figures looking steadily at the camera—as if to demonstrate that her work is an extension of her person, but that the two are not the same. Her pose conveys the sense of scale, a mastery of her medium, and an easy relationship to both. Frey helped to change notions that ceramics was inherently a medium for craft, not art. Whether because of her gender, the vast variety of her output, or both, acclaim comparable to her contemporaries’ has eluded Frey, despite frequent exhibitions of her work during and after her lifetime. “Center Stage” is the artist’s first major museum survey on the West Coast since 1981.

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