Head of Collections and Learning at the National Museum of Ireland. Prior to 2019,
Audrey was Curator of Ceramics, Glass and Asian Collections at the same institution.
When Vivienne Foley established her studio in Ireland at Whitegate, Co. Clare in 1979, it marked a significant turning point in the history of 20th century Irish ceramics. She was the first female artist working in the medium of porcelain to independently set up her own workshop, calling to mind the I 920s/30s Irish ceramic artist Kathleen Cox, even though Cox had worked predominantly in earthenware. Acquisition by the National Museum of Ireland in 1982 of a bowl with barium glaze confirmed her status as a leading light of the Irish applied arts world, in no small part due to the fact that accession of contemporary material by the HMI throughout the 1980s had been intermittent.
Since the year 2000 this situation has been reversed, proving all the more the importance of the original Vivienne Foley purchase by the institution. Despite her obvious characteristic of vessel development involving abstract proportions and line, her move to sculptural work over the past decade is in many respects quite revolutionary. The simple change from vertical to horizontal placement of form in association with the play of light has been stunningly achieved, particularly in relation to the ‘Strange Attractor’ series and ‘Long Ribbed Forms’. All of these more installation-based pieces are grounded, as with all of her artistic output, in the study of fine Song Dynasty wares. It is in this area that her artistic legacy in an Irish context will be strongest. Although there are Irish artists working in clay, such as Deirdre McLoughlin and Robert Lee under strong Asian influence it is primarily one of Japanese aesthetics, whereas Foley’s oeuvre is wholly Chinese in origin. Another overriding effect of the grace and sleekness evident in her work, as remarked upon by Fiona Sibley is the modernism of Brancusi's sculpture. It is the realisation of this merging of Far Eastern material culture with art of the avant-garde that lingers in the psyche of the spectator, and is perhaps her most profound gift to the history of the subject on a European level.