AUDREY WHITTY
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.

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