When art curator Valerie Cassel Oliver was organizing an exhibition a few years ago, artists kept mentioning someone they admired: UC Davis artist professor Annabeth Rosen.
“She is such an amazing artist – how did I not know about her?” said Cassel Oliver, a longtime senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
Cassel Oliver got to know about Rosen and her art — the result is “Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped” at the Contemporary Arts Museum. The first major survey of Rosen’s art, the exhibition includes 80 ceramic sculptures and 45 drawings/paintings, nearly all created since she arrived at UC Davis 20 years ago. Accompanying it is a 250-page catalog with dozens of images.
“I consider her to be a pioneer in the field of contemporary ceramics,” said Cassel Oliver. “Her work continues to challenge traditions around practices of this genre and contemporary craft and the history of contemporary art in general.”
Piled and glazed
Rosen, co-chair of the art and art history department, holds the Robert Arneson Endowed Chair. She’s best known for her large-scale ceramic sculptures that, as the exhibition title indicates, are often an accumulation of dozens of individual tubular and conical forms, misshapen spheres and truncated vessel-like forms bound together by thick glazes.
She frequently combines already fired, sometimes broken pieces with fresh clay. Occasionally she ties them up with wire and some of her newest work hides its structure under a slathering of white and purple glaze. Her sculpture can be graceful, flowing, fortress-like or purposefully ungainly — sometimes all at the same time.
Although well known for her sculptures, an important part of her production is drawings/paintings on paper that are several things at once: complete works in themselves, studies for sculptures, and a kind of rehearsal for building large works. They are part of the physical, nearly performative nature of her artmaking.
“Drawings are how an artist thinks,” Rosen said.
Exhibition kept expanding
Rosen and Cassel Oliver started out with a much smaller exhibition in mind.
“I was thrilled when she invited me to do an exhibition in the museum’s smaller space, then she offered the main gallery,” Rosen said. “I tried to talk her out of it. It’s not something I was thinking about or preparing for — it just escalated.”
The escalation was irresistible and important, said Cassel Oliver who is now modern and contemporary curator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
“Once we got into the work, I knew immediately that she deserved a much greater platform,” Cassel Oliver said. “I told her she needed a place to scream from the hills and show what she does. She was resistant; she’s very self-deprecating. I’m glad she allowed me to twist her arm and do this.”
With planning the survey in Houston and the large solo show at P.P.O.W., which involves her personally driving the forklift to load crates, Rosen’s art-making has been curtailed.
“I’m ready to go back to the studio,” she said, “and I’m seeing the work with new clarity after the break.”
The exhibition is also being shown at the Cranbrook Art Museum at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Rosen had a recent solo exhibition at P.P.O.W. in New York and her work has been included in recent group shows at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. She has been represented by the Anglim Gilbert Gallery in San Francisco since 2008.