Not on View


Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines


Artist: Robert Carston Arneson (American, 1930 - 1992)
Date: 1978
Medium: Glazed ceramic
Overall: 37 1/4 x 19 x 19 in. (94.6 x 48.3 x 48.3 cm.)
Credit Line: Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased by the Director's Discretionary Fund from the Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation, 1980.4.a-.b
Accession number: 1980.4.a-.b
Classification: sculpture
Label TextCredited with elevating ceramics from craft to fine art, Funk artist Robert Arneson created fine art sculpture rather than functional objects with clay. An influential sculpture professor at the University of California at Davis, Arneson constantly labored to balance elements of humor and critical content in his work, as seen in Klown. Arneson’s imaginative self-parody of the artist-as-clown acknowledges his struggle to be taken seriously as a ceramic artist while simultaneously relishing the creative freedom of working outside New York’s high art standards. A signature work, Klown exemplifies the wide range of Arneson’s skills — his masterful manipulation of the clay medium and assorted glazing techniques. Intense realism, vulgar details, and cunning wordplay also typify his oeuvre.
Perhaps no artist today has been more preoccupied with his own image as has Arneson. The self-portraits reveal the artist in various attitudes, poses and disguises: he sneers, whistles, eats, laughs and picks his nose; he depicts himself being splattered with mud, being murdered, and crazed; at times he is a swimmer or a chef or an old time airplane pilot or Santa Claus, or as a clown. In this sculpture Arneson's bearded features are easily discernible despite the crossed eyes and the wildly protruding tongue and, just in case one hasn'r recognized him, his tall collar is inscribed, "U no Hu." Arneson was born in 1930 in Benicia, California about 25 miles northest of San Francisco. Stongly influenced by the pioneering work of California ceramist Peter Voulkos, he attended various schools in the Bay area and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at Mills College in Oakland. He eventually obtained a position at the Univerdsity of California at Davis in 1962 and was appoinbted Professor of Art there in 1973. Source: Bulletin, July-August, 1980.
Inscriptionaround lower base
Exhibition History"Commitment, Community and Controversy: The Des Moines Art Center Collections," Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa, January 24, 1998 - May 10, 1998

"Robert Arneson: Self-Reflections," San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, Feb. 14 - May 3, 1997

"Word As Image: American Art 1960-1990," Milwaukee Art Museum, June 15 - Aug. 26, 1990; Oklahoma City Art Museum, Nov. 17, 1990 - Feb. 2, 1991; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, Feb. 23 - May 12, 1991

"Director's Choice," thirty-four works of art purchased with the Director's Discretionary Fund, 1973-1982, Sept. 13 - Nov. 13, 1983

"Heroes and Clowns," Allan Frumkin Gallery, N.Y., May 5 - June 8, 1979
Published ReferencesHenry Hopkins, 50 WEST COAST ARTISTS - A Critical Selection of Painters and Sculptors Working in California, 1981, edited by Douglas Bullis, published by Chronicle Books Publishing Company, San Francisco, ref. and color repro. p. 25

Jonathan Fineberg, ART SINCE 1940: STRATEGIES OF BEING (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000): pp.289-92 (ill.)

Douglas Dreishpoon, "Robert Arneson," Arts Magazine, September 1986, illus. p. 113 (credit line incorrect)

DES MOINES ART CENTER: SELECTED PAINTINGS, SCULPTURES AND WORKS ON PAPER, a catalog of selections from the permanent collection published in 1985, cat. ref. p.24, color ill. pl. no.1, p.97

ROBERT ARNESON: SELF-REFLECTIONS," exhibition catalogue, ed. Fronia Simpson, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1997, color repr. pl. 7

DMAC News, May/June 1995, p.8

"Heroes and Clowns," Allan Frumkin Gallery, N. Y., 1979, color cat. ill. p.8

AN UNCOMMON VISION: THE DES MOINES ART CENTER, Des Moines Art Center, 1998, ref. p.47, color ill. p.46

"Director's Choice," Thirty-four works of art purchased with the Director's Discretionary Fund, 1973-1982 - A Gift to the Des Moines Art Center from the Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation, Des Moines Art Center, 1983, color cat. ill.

DMAC News, Nov./Dec. 1994, p.5

DMAC Bulletin, July/Aug. 1980, cover ill.
entirely unexpected