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Biography

VF Bio

The artist in her 3rd Street Studio, Oakland, CA

VIOLA FREY
(1933-2004, b. Lodi, CA)

Over the course of her five-decade career, Viola Frey created boldly colored figurative sculptures, paintings, and works on paper that reflect on contemporary culture, power, and gender dynamics. While most closely aligned with the Bay Area Funk movement, Frey’s immense creative output delves into many aesthetic directions, using a distinctive and personal iconography and palette to depict human figures among objects of antiquity, flea market collectibles, and interior landscapes. Frey considered herself a bricoleur – a junk accumulator – by reinterpreting collectable figurines, philosophical ideas, personal experience, and color theory freely to create new meaning in ceramic and bronze. Her works on paper and paintings echo the sculptures, creating a dynamic back-and-forth conversation between media.

 

Frey was born in 1933 and raised on her family's vineyard in Lodi, California. In 1951, she moved to Oakland and attended California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC, now California College of the Arts) and completed her BFA in 1955. She pursued an MFA in Painting at Tulane University, and studied under George Rickey, Katherine Choy, and visiting artist Mark Rothko. Frey left early to explore clay’s artistic capabilities at Choy’s new Clay Art Center in Port Chester, New York. After a few years, she returned to San Francisco in 1960 with a renewed energy for clay as an art form.

 

Frey taught at CCAC from 1964 to 1999. During her tenure as a faculty member, she served as the Ceramics Department chair, guided the design and construction of the Noni Eccles Treadwell Ceramic Arts Center on CCAC's Oakland campus, and championed the ceramic medium as an art form. Among her many accomplishments, Frey was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a Masters of the Medium for Ceramics from the James Renwick Alliance, and an honorary Doctorate from CCAC.

 

Frey's work is held in over seventy public collections, including the Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, MA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.

 

In 2000, Viola Frey, along with artist Squeak Carnwath and community advocate Gary Knecht, co-founded Artists' Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that manages artists’ estates and facilitates their posthumous philanthropy. Upon her death in 2004, Frey became the Foundation’s first Legacy Artist. Frey’s artwork, archives, and the annual $25,000 Artist Award are now stewarded by the Foundation.

VF Frieze Masters

Viola Frey: Works on Paper and Small Sculpture, 1980-1989

Over the course of her five-decade career, Viola Frey produced a body of artwork ranging from ceramic and bronze sculptures, to paintings and drawings, as well as exploring working in glass and photography. For Frieze Masters, GAVLAK will highlight the artist's largely overlooked yet equally impressive practice of working with graphite, acrylic, oil, and pastel on paper. Viola Frey (1933–2004), a painter and sculptor, was born and raised in a farm in Lodi, CA. The artist went on to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where she graduated with a BFA in 1956. She then studied in New Orleans under Mark Rothko and George Rickey at Tulane University and left for New York in 1957 before finishing her graduate degree. There she joined Katherine Choy who had recently founded the Clay Art Center in Port Chester. Viola Frey was a pioneer in bridging the barrier between craft and fine art to push forward the medium of ceramic sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s. A lifelong teacher and maker, she retired as professor emerita from California College of the Arts in 1999, co-founded Artists’ Legacy Foundation in 2000, and continued to work until she passed away at the age of 70 in Oakland, CA. Her works are included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

CV

VIOLA FREY
Born August 15, 1933, Lodi, CA
Died July 26, 2004, Oakland, CA


Education
2000             California College of the Arts (formerly CCAC), Oakland, CA, Honorary Doctorate
1955-1957    Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, Graduate Studies in Painting
1953-1955    California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA, BFA in Painting
1952-1953    Stockton Delta College, Stockton, CA
1951             Lodi High School, Lodi, CA


Selected Solo Exhibitions
2020       Monumental: The Art of Viola Frey, Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI
               Gods & Monsters, American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, DC
2019       Viola Frey: Her Self, Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, Novato, CA (catalogue)
               Viola Frey: Center Stage, di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, CA (catalogue)
2018       The Future of Yesterday, James Harris Gallery, Seattle, WA
               Funk/Pop: Viola Frey, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ
2015       Viola Frey: A Personal Iconography, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY (catalogue)
2014       Collection in Focus: Viola Frey, di Rosa, Napa, CA (catalogue)
2012       Viola Frey: Echoes of Images, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY
2010       Viola Frey: Every Man, Every Woman, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY
               Viola Frey: A Legacy in Paint and Clay, Sylvia White Gallery, Ventura, CA
2009       Bigger, Better, More: The Art of Viola Frey, Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI (catalogue);
               also traveled to Gardiner Museum, Toronto, ON; Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY;
               Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR
2008       Viola Frey: Focus on the Figure, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2007       Viola Frey: Relationships/Interrelationships, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY
2005       Viola Frey: A Lasting Legacy, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY (catalogue);
               also traveled to Avampato Discovery Museum, Charleston, WV; Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, NC
               Viola Frey, Louis Wells Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, NC
2001       Larger than Life: Ceramic Figures by Viola Frey, Boise Art Museum, Boise, ID; also traveled to Nevada Museum
               of Art, Reno, NV
1998       Viola Frey: Survey 1969-1981, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA (catalogue)
1997       Viola Frey: Plates, Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, CA
1996       Viola Frey: An Exhibition of Small Scale Ceramic Sculpture by a Major American Artist, Riva Yares Gallery,
               Santa Fe, NM
1995       Viola Frey: Arguments, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA (catalogue)
               Viola Frey Ceramics: The Dinner Plates, Western Gallery, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
1994       Viola Frey, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA (catalogue)
               Viola Frey: Plates 1968-1994, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY; also to Butler Institute of American Art
               Youngstown, OH; Western Gallery, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA; Art Museum South Texas,
               Corpus Christi, TX; Wichita Center for the Arts, Wichita, KS; Dahl Fine Arts Center, Rapid City, SD
               Viola Frey: Sculpture and Paintings, Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
               Viola Frey: Monumental Sculpture, Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ
1992       Viola Frey: Artist's Mind/Studio/World Wallpaper and Pink Lady, The Fabric Workshop, Philadelphia, PA
1991       Viola Frey, Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, CA (catalogue)
1990       Viola Frey, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA (catalogue)
1988       Manufacture de Sèvres, Atelier Experimental de Recherche et de Creation: Viola Frey, Hall du Centre National
               des Arts Plastiques, Paris, France
1986       Viola Frey, Asher/Faure, Los Angeles, CA
1985       Viola Frey: Paintings and Sculpture, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1984       It's All Part of the Clay: Viola Frey, Goldie Paley Gallery, Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, PA;
               also traveled to Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA; Erie Art Museum, Erie, PA
               Viola Frey, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
               Viola Frey: Paintings and Sculpture, Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis, MO
               Viola Frey: Sculpture and Painting, Asher/Faure, Los Angeles, CA
1983       Viola Frey: Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings, Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA (catalogue)
1982       Viola Frey: Figures, Art Gallery/Visual Arts Center, CSU Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
               Currents 18: Viola Frey, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
1981       Viola Frey, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA (catalogue); also traveled to Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA;
               Sheehan Art Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA; Blanden Memorial Gallery, Fort Dodge, IA;
               Matthew’s Center, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ; Illinois State University, Normal, IL; Huntsville Museum
               of Art, Huntsville, AL
1980       Viola Frey, Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1978       Viola Frey: Ceramic Artist in Residence, Purdue University CA 5 Ceramic Studio, W Lafayette, IN 
1975       Viola Frey: Recent Ceramic Sculpture, Hank Baum Gallery, Century City and San Francisco, CA
1975       Viola Frey: Recent Works, Wenger+Casat Galleries, La Jolla, CA
1974       Viola Frey “Seat of Civilization” Series, Wenger Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1970       Viola Frey: Artist in Residence, Pioneer Museum, San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton, CA
1969       “Trophies in Clay” by Viola Frey, Chabot College Art Gallery, Hayward, CA 
1966       Viola Frey: Pottery, Paintings, College of the Holy Names, Oakland, CA

Selected Group Exhibitions
2020       Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
               Cool Clay: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Ceramics, Crocker Museum Sacramento, CA
               100 Iconic Works from the Permanent Collection, The Baker Museum of Art, Naples, FL
               Global Conversations: Art in Dialogue, Toldeo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
               About Face: Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL (catalogue);
               also traveled to Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX; and Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA
2019       Chris Hood and Viola Frey, Et al./Et al. etc., San Francisco, CA (catalogue)
               Clayblazers: Women Artists of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Arizona Art Museum, Tempe, AZ
               Human Condition, KANEKO, Omaha, NE
2018       40 by 40: The 40th Anniversary Show, University Art Gallery, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA
               Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times (Part 1), di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, CA 
               Be Not Still: Living in Uncertain Times (Part 2), di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, CA 
               First Glimpse: Introduction to the Buck Collection, University Art Gallery and Contemporary Arts Center Gallery,
               University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA (catalogue) 
               Living with Clay: California Ceramics Collections, Nicholas & Lee Begovich Gallery, California State University,
               Fullerton, Fullerton, CA (catalogue)
2016       Function, Form, and Fantasy: Ceramics from the Dr. Robert and Deanna Harris Burger Collection, Flint Institute
               of Arts, Flint, MI (catalogue)
2012       Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics: The Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection, Museum of
               Fine Arts Houston, Houston, TX (catalogue)
2009       Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay, Institute Contemporary Art, University Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA;
               also traveled to Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
2005       Connoisseurs of Clay: Collecting Contemporary Ceramics, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
1987       California Figurative Sculpture, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA (catalogue)
1985       In the Eye of the Beholder: A Portrait of Our Time, College Art Gallery, SUNY/The College at New Paltz, NY

Interviews and Panels
1990       La Céramique contemporaine aux États-Unis presenter, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France
1989       Figurative Art in Public Spaces: An Artists’ Panel Discussion panelist, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, NY
1982       California Sculptural Tradition: Figurative Sculpture panelist,12th International Sculpture Conference, Oakland, CA
1980       National Council for the Ceramic Arts conference panelist, Ann Arbor, MI
1979       The Ceramics Symposium 1979 panelist, Institute for Ceramic History, Los Angeles, CA

Teaching
1964-99   California College of Arts and Crafts; Professor Emerita in Ceramics
1967        Visiting Professor in Advanced Ceramics (summer session), Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Awards and Grants
1986        Award of Honor for Sculpture, Arts Commission of San Francisco, CA

                Grant recipient, Artist Fellowship Grant, National Endowment for the Arts
1978        Grant recipient, Craftsmen’s Fellowship Grant, National Endowment for the Arts
1971        Award winner, Ceramic Statement 1971, Association of San Francisco Potters, M.H. de Young Memorial
                Museum, San Francisco, CA
1970        Purchase award, San Francisco Art Festival, San Francisco, CA
1968        Award winner, Media ’68, Walnut Creek Civic Arts Gallery, Walnut Creek, CA
1967        Award winner, James D. Phelan Award, San Francisco, CA
1964        Purchase award, San Francisco Art Festival, San Francisco, CA
1963        Award winner, Stone Forms: Association of San Francisco Potters 12th Exhibition, M.H. de Young Memorial
                Museum, San Francisco, CA
1961        Award winner, California Crafts II, Creative Arts League of Sacramento, CA
1954        Award winner, The Thirteenth Annual Pacific Coast Ceramic Exhibition, Rotunda Gallery, San Francisco, CA

Residencies 
1993        European Ceramic Workcentre, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
1992        Pilchuck Glass School, Stanwood, WA
1991        Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Koka City, Japan
1988        Manufacture de Sèvres, Sèvres, France
1986        Manufacture de Sèvres, Sèvres, France
1978        CA 5 Ceramic Studio, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
1970        San Joaquin Delta College (formerly Stockton Delta College), Stockton, CA

Public/Institution Collections
Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH
American Museum of Ceramic Art, Pomona, CA
Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ
Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AR
Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TX
Avampato Discovery Museum, Charleston, WV
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, NC
Canton Museum of Art, Canton, OH
Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA
Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH
Cité de la Céramique, Sèvres, France
Clay Art Center, Port Chester, NY
Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, Charleston, WV
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR 
Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, CA
Everson Art Museum, Syracuse, NY
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI
Foosaner Art Museum, Melbourne, FL
Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles, CA
Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Canada
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, HI
Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Miami, FL
Mark Arts, Wichita, KS
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA
Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL
Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY
Museum of Arts and Sciences, Macon, GA
Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Museum of Design, Zürich, Switzerland
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MA
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, TX
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS 
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University, East Logan, UT
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL
Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA
Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA
Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI
Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, CA
Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, Sacramento, CA
San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE
Shigaraki Ceramic Sculpture Park, Shiga, Japan
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY
St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
The Belger Arts Center, Kansas City, MO
The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
University Art Collections, University of Denver, Denver, CO
University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA
Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, UT
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom
Western Gallery & Public Art Collection, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT
Zuckerman Art Museum, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA

Please download supplementary materials for a selected bibliography.

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