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'Fatal Laughs: The Art of Robert Arneson' opens at the Cantor Arts Center
Robert Arneson (U.S.A., 1930–1992), Flip and Flop, 1978. Polychrome glazed earthenware. Lent by Collection of Paula and Ross Turk. © Estate of Robert Arneson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

STANFORD, CA.- American sculptor Robert Arneson (1930–1992) revolutionized the medium of clay, transforming it from a “craft” into “fine art.” For more than 40 years, frequently using himself as a subject, he explored controversial ideas outside the conventional art repertory, including many that were sexual, racial or political in nature. “I want to make high art that is funny, outrageous and also reveals the human condition, which is not always high,” he once said.

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents an exhibition of some of Arneson’s most acclaimed works. Fatal Laughs: The Art of Robert Arneson, running August 20, 2014 through September 28, 2015, features the 1964 Funk object His and Hers, which irreverently explores sexual and scatological subject matter while also considering the traditional function of ceramics; in two works from the 1970s, Assassination of a Famous Nut Artist and Flip and Flop, the artist’s image is a vehicle for anguish and pain; in the works from the 1980s, including Global Death and Destruction, Arneson proves that clay is a powerful way to voice political views.

Arneson spent his entire life in the Bay Area. He was born just east of San Francisco Bay in Benecia, studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts and earned a master's degree in 1958 from Mills College. After teaching stints at Santa Rosa Junior College, Fremont High School and Mills College, Arneson began a momentous three-decade academic career at UC Davis in 1962.

While at UC Davis, Arneson led a movement that took ceramic art in a new direction. When Arneson came to campus, ceramic art forms were mainly versions of traditional pottery shapes: pots, vases, plates and tiles. Arneson and others abandoned the manufacture of functional wares in favor of using everyday objects to make confrontational statements. The new movement was dubbed "Funk Art," and Arneson is considered the "father of the ceramic Funk movement." He battled cancer in the last decade of his life, and died in 1992.

Arneson’s works can be found in public and private collections around the world, including: the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Chicago Art Institute; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kyoto, Japan. In addition to the Cantor, the Anderson Collection at Stanford University and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art are among Bay Area institutions that hold works by Arneson.

Four of the works in this exhibition are from the Cantor Arts Center collection; Flip and Flop is lent from the Collection of Paula and Ross Turk, and Wolf Head is on loan from the estate of Robert Arneson, courtesy of Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco and George Adams Gallery, New York. The exhibition is made possible by support from the Contemporary Collectors Circle.

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