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Big Idea: The Maquettes of Robert Arneson

September 6 - November 3, 2002


Robert Arneson (1930-1992), one of America's most original, witty and iconoclastic artists, is recognized for his pivotal role in establishing ceramics as a vital medium for contemporary figurative sculpture. Arneson is also familiar to many The Contemporary Museum visitors. His monumental sculpture Temple of Fatal Laffs is installed on the museum grounds near the café, and his work has been shown in previous exhibitions at the museum, including works from Hawaii collections in 1994 and self-portraits in 2000, as well as several exhibitions drawn from the museum's collection, which also contains his sculptures Doyen and Up Against It. Several Arneson drawings were donated to the museum by his widow, Sandra Shannonhouse, last year.

The current exhibition, organized by the Palo Alto Art Center, offers viewers another, quite different look at Arneson's work. This exhibition comprises more than 90 ceramic maquettes -- three-dimensional sketches or models -- which are being exhibited for the first time from the artist's estate. Ranging in size from 2 to 14 inches and in date from 1964 to 1992, the maquettes form a journal of intimate notations that chronicle the evolution of the artist and his prodigious imagination. Many of the maquettes represent Arneson's first concepts for works, and their freshness and spontaneous execution illuminate the artist's free-wheeling kind of creativity, offering glimpses of his thought process in clay. (left: Robert Arneson, "Model for California Artist", 1982, glazed ceramic, 12 1/4 x 4 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches, The Palo Alto Art Center, City of Palo Alto, Palo Alto, California, copyright, Estate of Robert Arneson. Licensed by Vaga, New York, N.Y.)

The maquettes are presented with associated artist notebooks and studies on paper to provide a window into Arneson's visual thinking. The exhibition also includes two full-scale sculptures in bronze and a selection of drawings, giving a sense of Arneson's creative process involving refinements, conceptual changes and shifts in scale from maquette to the final sculpture.

Big Idea: The Maquettes of Robert Arneson was organized by the Palo Alto Art Center, Division of Arts and Culture, City of Palo Alto, Palo Alto, California. This exhibition has been made possible through the support of the Palo Alto Center Foundation; The Christensen Fund, Palo Alto; the Association of Ceramic and Glass Artists, California; the California Arts Council, a state agency; the Arts Council Silicon Valley; an anonymous donor in honor of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Morgan Flagg Family Foundation; Dominic and Margaret Di Mare; Forrest L. Merrill; John Kottely; and private contributions. The presentation of this exhibition in Honolulu is supported by Eight Inc. Honolulu/ San Francisco, Robert and Marcy Katz, and Mike and Trish O'Neill.

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