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A 'Bigger, Better' show 

click to enlarge 'FAMILY PORTRAIT': In exhibit of Viola Frey ceramics at the Arts Center.
  • 'FAMILY PORTRAIT': In exhibit of Viola Frey ceramics at the Arts Center.

Viola Frey fixed her star in the (mostly male) galaxy of American ceramic artists with monumental ceramic figures and assemblages of kitsch figurines. "Bigger, Better, More: The Art of Viola Frey" brings to the Arkansas Arts Center Frey's work from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the Butler Institute of American Art and other fine arts collections. It's a significant show that offers a rare opportunity to walk among, and be dwarfed by, the work of the late California artist.

Frey's bulky and flattened colossi, glazed in bright colors; her bricolage pieces that combine mermaids, roosters, China goddesses and the like, and wall-sized paintings fill the Rockefeller and Wolfe galleries with Cubist sensibilities and the color and gesture of Matisse. It is work that is both personal, reflecting the role of men and women in her life, and iconic, thanks to her obsession with junk. An example here of the two combined is the 7-foot-tall "Family Portrait," in which men in suits and women in dresses stand amid a cluster of nostalgia — the Mandarin figurine, the boy with a bat, a milkmaid.

Frey's hand-built figures have wide-eyed expressions and stiff forms; she worked in sections of clay so massive the figures had to be cut apart before they could be fired and glazed. Frey applies paint to the sculpture as Cezanne or Picasso would to plane, giving her figures green cheeks, yellow noses, red hands, blue shadows. Male figures more than eight feet tall take an intimidating pose, arms akimbo and heads tilted down toward the viewer. She often represents women in flowered dresses and hats and heels, drawn from the women in her life, who were strong in their own way. "Double Grandmothers with Black and White Dresses," two 7-foot-plus women with forearms extended, dominate the space around them.

The figurines appear in her two-dimensional work — as themselves as objects, filling a room from which a man is fleeing ("Studio View"), or as subject, creating a garden tableau of jointed doll, fawn, little girl ("China Goddess Painting"), representations of representations of archetypes. Frey also makes monuments of her assemblages; in "Junkman," she's stacked slipcasts of Woody Woodpecker, a train, a putti, a horse head and the tugboat "Little Toot," glazed the sculpture in white and painted over it in China paint. For all her love of massive form, Frey has a beautiful line. The show runs through Nov. 28.

If you are reading this paper the day it hits the streets, you'll have time to go to Arts and Appetizers, Local Colour Gallery's Aug. 26 fund-raiser for Women and Children First. The event is 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and admission is $20. The women's shelter will receive 10 percent of proceeds from sales of art by the Local Colour collaborative. The gallery is at 5811 Kavanaugh Blvd.

On Wednesday, Sept. 1, the Arts Center opens "A Century of Revolution: Mexican Art since 1910," an exhibit of work by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and others from the collection of the University of Texas. The show is part of "Arkansas Mexico 2010," a city-wide commemoration of the centennial of the Mexican revolution and bicentennial of Mexican independence.

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center has installed its first new exhibit in its changing exhibitions gallery: "The Fine Art of Jazz," Dan White's photographs of Kansas City jazz musicians. The exhibit coordinates with the Friends of Mosaic Templars fund-raiser dinner "An Evening with the Legendary Ramsey Lewis," set for Sept. 17 at the Clinton Center.

"The Fine Art of Jazz" features 50 black-and-white portraits of musicians, including Jay McShann, Orville "Piggie" Minor, Eddie Saunders and others.

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