Viola Frey (1933-2004) Fallen Man III, 1992

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Lot 37
Viola Frey
Fallen Man III, 1992

Sold for US$ 100,075 inc. premium
Viola Frey (1933-2004)
Fallen Man III, 1992

glazed ceramic (in 18 parts)

80 x 72 x 90 in.
203.2 x 182.9 x 228.6 cm


  • Provenance
    Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1992

    The commanding presence of Viola Frey's larger-than-life sculpture Fallen Man III is intensified by the thick, colorful glaze melting down the surface. Created in 1992, the work is composed of eighteen parts in glazed ceramic, fit together like an architectural structure. Fallen Man III is 80 inches high, medium-size in comparison to the monumental works that Frey was making during this era, many of which soared to twelve feet, an extraordinary accomplishment in clay.

    Frey spent much of her early career sculpting and painting small figurines and tableaus, creating her first monumental clay figures in the early 1980s. After facing structural issues, the artist began to cut the works into multiple pieces and fire them separately. The works are true constructions, built as three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles. Said Frey, "I start from the ground on up, which is very logical when you think about it. The other people went through a lot of different ways. My work is very direct" (Paul Karlstrom in conversation with the artist, Archives of American Art, Women in the Arts in Southern California Oral History Project, February-June 1995).

    Born in Lodi, California in 1933, Frey received her B.F.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and her M.F.A. from Tulane University, New Orleans. Frey then moved to New York, working at the Clay Art Center in Port Chester where she was actively engaged with the advancement of ceramic arts. To support herself, Frey commuted into Manhattan daily and worked in the business office of the Museum of Modern Art. The city is where Frey was first confronted with the multitudes of suited men in the world, and within the art world. Said the artist "the man in the suit was about power, but it was about power to do good and power to do bad" (Karlstrom).

    By 1960 Frey had returned to San Francisco, where figurative art and working with clay were in the vanguard. An explosion of artistic energy was taking place in Northern California. During this period, she focused on the expressive potential of clay and, along with her ceramicist colleagues Robert Arneson and Peter Voulkos, was instrumental in cracking the barrier between craft and fine art. Painters such as Richard Diebenkorn, David Park and Joan Brown, were also forging a new art history at the time. Frey was an integral part of this movement and spoke quite candidly about her struggle to stand out as a woman artist within it. In many ways, Frey has not been given enough credit for the ways in which she revolutionized the medium for artists working in clay.

    It is in her monumental ceramic figures, such as Fallen Man III, that Frey subtly addressed issues of gender inequality. In the larger-than-life figures for which she is best-known, men wear power suits and women are clothed in traditional 1950s fashions, or in the nude. Frey sculpted women holding the world or gazing at it, placing them in a position of power. She created men standing, walking, but most often seated or fallen, wearing their nature and vulnerabilities in their suits and faces.

    As the viewer approaches Fallen Man III, Frey's vigorous and committed brushwork is on full display. Irresistible layers of glossy, vibrant color flows down the figure, both defining and defying the form underneath. The seductiveness of glaze is that this translucent 'glass' surface can be applied with a brush, enabling the artist to uniquely work a surface. Working on a ceramic canvas of this size allowed Frey to use huge brushstrokes, fusing figurative ceramic sculpture with an intense painterly surface, something no one before her had done. She often used more than one glaze, sometimes causing two glazes to react, though she generally opted for a variety of matte and gloss low-fire glazes in local colors, inspired by her time in her outdoor studio in San Francisco.

    Frey said of her method, "The hand of the artist was important. And that's why the surfaces are the way they are. They're not smooth. They're not carved and cut down because I don't think that the work has any resting place, you know? It's always coming and going" (Karlstrom). In this way, Frey's works can be viewed as a creation of both control and serendipity. The tension between her precisely drawn lines and the uncontrolled results of chance chemical reactions in vivid, flowing colors is visually mesmerizing.

    Though best-recognized for her innovations in the field of ceramics, over the course of her career Frey produced a wide and impressive body of work. She didn't shy away from working outside her iconic and critically successful large-scale figurative sculpture, even making paintings and drawings toward the end of her career. Frey's work can be found in numerous important public and private collections including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Viola Frey (1933-2004) Fallen Man III, 1992
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