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Viola Frey (1933-2004) worked in many modes. Whether it is her monumental figurative sculptures, her painterly plates, or her ceramic assemblage culled from trips to the flea market, she created intelligent and provocative ceramic sculpture. Throughout her work, she employed aspects of funk art and elements of social critique, and returned constantly to the figure, using it to explore a wide range of themes. Bright, almost garish colors and heavily textured surfaces are an indispensable part of her work, heightening the sense of urgency and tension each piece imparts. While her plates are highly autobiographical in nature, often incorporating aspects of her childhood and personal life, her large figures and assemblage pieces deal with universal themes of social interaction in an increasingly complex world.

Frey, who grew up on a farm and vineyard in Lodi, California, lived and worked in Oakland for much of her career. She moved there in 1960 after completing an M.F.A. at Tulane University in New Orleans. In 1965 she began teaching at the California College of Arts and Crafts, and in 1975 expanded her studio in Oakland so she could produce larger work. She became well known for the monumental sculptures she began creating in the 1980’s, which can be found in public places and private collections throughout the world.

Despite her interest in monumental forms, Frey was also drawn to the miniature. During her early years in Oakland, she began collecting small ceramic figurines found at flea markets near her home. These pieces of the past, the detritus of a society that is always moving on to the next big thing, fascinated Frey. Some of them inspired her large sculptures, while others become elements of her assemblage pieces. Casting molds from her many flea market knick knacks, she remade these castoffs in her own style and bound them together in a complex amalgamation of appropriated forms. For Frey, these pieces have much to do with modern life and our dependence upon material goods. In her words, “most peoples' lives- what are they but trails of debris? Each day more debris, long, long trails of debris, with nothing to clean it all up.”


1953      Stockton Delta College, Stockton, California
1956      California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, California BFA
1958      Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana MFA

Museum Collections

Archer M. Huntington Gallery, Austin, Texas
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, New York
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York
Fresno Museum of Art, Fresno, California
The Israel Museum of Art, Jerusalem, Israel
Judisches Museum, Frankfurt, Germany
Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Lucille Salter Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford University, California
Matthew Center Art Collection, Arizona State University,
Tempe, Arizona
Museum of Modern Art, Lodz, Poland
Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, California
Newport Art Museum, Newport Beach, California
Sak’s Fifth Avenue Corporation, New York
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California
Seattle Museum of Art, Washington
Skirball Museum, Los Angeles
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Great Britain

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2003     Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
1999     Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York
            Esprit Wall and Glove, Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
1998     Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
1997     Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica
1996     Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
            Carin Delcout Van Krimpen, Amsterdam
1994     Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
            Viola Frey: Plates 1968-1994, the Butler Institute of American Art,
            Youngstown, Ohio (traveling exhibition)
1993     Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York
1992     Fresno Museum of Art, Fresno, California (catalogue)
            Crocker Museum of Art, Sacramento
            Asher / Faure Gallery, Los Angeles
            Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
            Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York
1991     Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York
1990     Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco (catalogue)
1989     Nancy Hoffman Gallery, San Francisco (catalogue)
            Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
1988     Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco
1987     Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York
            Viola Frey: A Bricoleur of the 20th Century, Pacific Bell, San Ramon,             California
1986     Asher Faure Gallery, Los Angeles
1985     Viola Frey, Rena Bransten Quay Gallery, San Francisco
1984     It’s All Part of the Clay: Viola Frey, Goldie Paley Gallery,
            Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
            (catalogue and traveling exhibition)
            Asher / Faure Gallery, Los Angeles
1983     Quay Gallery, San Francisco (catalogue)
            Viola Frey, The Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr College of Art,             Granville Island, Vancouver, Canada
1982     Viola Frey: Figures, California State University, Fullerton
            Mark Twain Bank, Kansas City, Missouri
1981     Viola Frey: A Retrospective, originating at the Crocker Art Museum,             Sacramento, (catalogue and traveling exhibition)
1980     Quay Gallery, San Francisco
1977     Wenger Gallery, La Jolla, California
1975     Hank Baum Gallery, San Francisco
            Hank Baum Gallery, San Francisco
1974     Wenger Gallery, San Francisco