The title of the Racine Art Museum's dazzling exhibit of Viola Frey's sculptures and paintings, "Bigger, Better, More" could apply to the museum itself.
The Frey exhibit, which features the artist's massive, beautiful sculptures, is a remarkable accomplishment for RAM and a sign of the museum's emergence as a significant voice in the art world. Museum staff worked for five years to assemble the first show of Frey's works since the world-renown artist died in 2004.
RAM staff worked with the Gardiner Museum in Toronto to create the show.
RAM's former curator Davira S. Taragin, reviewed Frey's body of work and selected the objects for the 22-piece exhibit on display in Racine through Aug. 16. The Gardiner, which specializes in ceramics, handled the logistics of moving Frey's enormous pieces and made arrangements for an international tour of the works.
Viola Frey was a prodigious artist who worked for most of her life in Oakland, Calif. While she created in many forms, she is best known for her ceramic sculptures, some of which are 12-feet tall. Walking through the RAM exhibit, you sense Frey's playful imagination and incredible ability to engineer and craft huge works of art. Part of the fun is wondering how in the world Frey worked on such a large scale (look carefully and you can see how the sculptures split into pieces), and then how the museum staff managed to rebuild the pieces in its second-story gallery.
Bruce Pepich, executive director of RAM, said the weight of Frey's sculptures was a serious concern. The museum worked with the contractor that transformed the former bank building into the gallery to calculate weight loads and ensure the wood floor wouldn't collapse when Frey's pieces were put into place. "We didn't want to end up with a sculpture in our basement," Pepich said. (The museum used layers of wood to dissipate the sculptures' weight.)
The exhibit is somewhat surprising for RAM because the museum is dedicated to showing crafts, not necessarily the ceramics Frey is known for. But Pepich said the exhibit fit perfectly with RAM's mission to broaden and challenge people's thinking on what is art - a big topic in craft art, which some belittle as less of a fine art than painting.
Pepich said he believes in a century there will be no distinction in the art world between painters or sculptors who worked in glass, metal or ceramics. "In 100 years, they'll say artists worked in different materials, but talked about the same ideas," he said.
Frey is a good example because she worked in many art forms. Along with her sculptures, the Frey exhibit includes oil paintings and a watercolor. RAM's notes on the exhibit say: "Frey was an integral voice in linking craft media with fine art."
Frey's painting, "Studio View - Man in the Doorway," at RAM. The painting is a portrait of Frey's studio, where she collected knicknacks and other kitsch items that inspired her work.
RAM's Frey exhibit is already garnering international attention. The show travels to Toronto in September and then to the Museum of Art and Design in New York City. It ends in Little Rock, Ark.
The show, which opened in April, is one of RAM's most significant exhibits since opening in 2003 and is expected to draw about 6,000 people to the museum, including many from Chicago and Milwaukee.
Pepich said the exhibit, which will travel with the Racine Art Museum name on it, helps the museum fulfill its mission to spread a positive image of Racine through art. "This show will be like a billboard in New York City for 18 months," Pepich said. "Thousands and thousands of people will see it and get a positive image of Racine."
Before the exhibit leaves, you still have a chance to see it here. Frey's work will be on display at RAM, 441 Main St., through Aug. 16. You can see it free tonight at First Fridays in Downtown Racine. More on Viola Frey HERE.
Frey's "Double Self" are two life-sized sculptures of herself. Frey was shorter than 5-feet tall, but still created ceramic figures 12-feet tall in height. Frey, born to a family of grape farmers, was known for constantly working in her studio. She was photographed often in Birkenstocks and a smock with her hands and legs covered in clay and glaze.