Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you an excerpt from author Maria Porges’ essay on the di Rosa in Napa, California. Porges explains: “Other museums may bear the name of a founder, but as far as I know, there really is no place quite like this one—historic home museum, contemporary white-walled space, and sculpture park rolled into one.” This article was originally published on December 4, 2014.
On my most recent trip to di Rosa, I had questions about the future of the collection on my mind. How will this collection be displayed, conserved, promoted, and carried forward into the uncertain future that institutions face today? When I arrived, curator Amy Owen was looking at one of the works damaged in the recent Napa earthquake with a group of conservators from the Oakland Museum of California. While they conferred, I studied the two exhibitions in the Gatehouse Gallery: a selection from the di Rosa collection of two-dimensional works by the noted sculptor Viola Frey, and a group show of three younger Bay Area painters titled The Presence of the Present. Frey’s works on paper and canvas, featuring figures and objects set up in her studio, reveal her command of these media as well as her interest in exploring the same themes addressed in the monumental ceramic sculpture for which she is known—most notably, gender roles and ideas about power. In Studio View–One Man Splitting, a large canvas (72 x 96 inches) from 1983, Frey paints the three male figures with assurance, outlining their blocky, suit-clad forms with strong, dark lines. In a short essay, Owen describes the scene as possibly referring to the artist’s frustrations with the art world—collectors coming and going from her studio, ostensibly interrupting the flow of her work. But it also suggests the sculptor’s eye refusing the limitations of two dimensions by capturing the figure from three points of view at the same moment. In two nearby drawings, Frey focuses instead on monumental female figures, powerful rather than enticing, evoking her unflinching position regarding the status of women in a sexist profession.