Although Viola Frey's ceramic figures are monumental in scale, they don't have a monumental effect. Rather, these people appear beaten-down, passive or impotent. Constructed in several sections, fired separately and then joined, the sculptures evince human vulnerability through their fragile and fragmented clay material. Indeed, the gigantism of these lumbering men and women--their scale is extraordinary among figurative ceramics--amplifies the symbolic frailties with which they have been invested.
Although the figures are unmistakably American in appearance, their titles suggest general existential conditions. Questioning Man (2002), for example, is a nearly 9-foot-tall fellow in a nondescript blue suit and red striped tie who towers over spectators. With an ungainly stance, arms rigidly pinned to his sides and a blank expression, he elicits more pathos than awe. Even when a figure assumes a more commanding identity, strength is simultaneously asserted and undermined: Man Kicking World (2002)--a seated, suited individual about to kick an enormous 5-foot-diameter globe--seems less Master of the Universe than frustrated child. Reflective Woman I (2002) stands about 8 feet tall in a brightly painted but dowdy knee-length dress, her palm outstretched in a gesture of inquiry and resignation. A massive nude such as Seated Woman (2002) is less constrained by social identity than the businessmen, yet her stilted and impassive air suggests not a voluptuary but a studio model. In such works, Frey favors a stiff frontality that alludes to archaic sculpture.
Frey also exhibited two outsized vessels: Amphora (Men in Power Suits), 2001-02, bearing a frieze of interlocking glad-handing businessmen, and Um VF Iconography (2002), a decorative, freely colored compendium of such motifs as classical statuary, puppetlike humans (including nudes) and pastoral landscapes Wide-bodied and two-handled, these amphorae echo Frey's thick-waisted women, much as ancient sculptural vessels refer the human body.
The exhibition's pastel drawings and large glazed-tile wall pictures feature images of figurines, another reference to past forms. These call attention to tie fact that Frey's large sculptures often look like ordinary, blocky statuettes or cheap figurines that have been enlarged to humongous size. This association, seen against the titles' large themes and her grand scale, suggest that Frey's sculptures are a sardonic comment on human ambitions.
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