Ethnic Man - Collections and Exhibitions Transcript

My name is David Carroll and I'm the Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts where I have worked since 1990.

During the year 2000 a much smaller staff was feverishly working on moving objects and installing exhibitions for a spring 2001 grand reopening in the recently completed Marcia and John Price Museum Building. Then Director Frank Sanguinetti had acquired several objects to highlight the new building, one of which was a larger than life sculpture by California artist Viola Frey titled “Ethnic Man.” I had read some gallery descriptions, seen photographs of Frey’s work and knew a little about her artistic practice. I also knew that the L.A. County Museum of Art had a Frey sculpture similar to the one we were getting, but beyond that I hadn’t done any research on the piece we had acquired. In those hectic months before our grand reopening I didn’t have the time or inclination to think about more than what was in front of me on any given day. I arranged shipping with the Rena Bransten Gallery, Frey’s gallery in San Francisco, but I didn’t ask for details about the shape or size of the shipment.  At some point I should have realized that a ten foot tall sculpture made from fired clay would be big, heavy and require some assembly. The moment of rude awakening was deferred until the sculpture arrived. 

Fifteen very large and carefully wrapped ceramic pieces on pallets arrived at the museum’s loading dock. The anatomical parts were easily identifiable making the sculpture’s pieces look like parts of a dismembered giant. There were arms, legs, slices of torso and pieces of head. This human puzzle on a very large scale also came with no instructions.  Aaron Hardy, the museum’s longtime preparator had the very practical idea of using a larger steel plate on wheels as a base underneath the artist supplied steel base plate. We all knew that once fully assembled “Ethnic Man” would likely never move again without some provision to make him mobile. 

By design the legs were two separate pieces each bolted to the steel base plate.  The torso and arms made in five paired sections - left and right - stacked like layers of a cake, bolted together and to the legs. From the front the edge of the necktie covered the seam between the paired sections making them appear as whole layers.  The lower portion of the head rested on top of the shoulders held in place by a bolt.  Fortunately how it went together was largely self-evident. The real challenge wasn’t figuring out the arrangement of parts, but in putting them all together. 

Using the museum’s newly purchased scissor lift Aaron assembled the sculpture piece-by-piece. Each heavy section had to be carefully wrestled into place. The last piece was the crown of “Ethnic Man’s” head.  All of the other pieces bolted together - and short of an earthquake - the parts seemed very secure.   The very last piece was the crown of the head and it didn’t bolt to anything – that worried us. If it were to fall from ten feet it would most definitely shatter and possibly take out a visitor or two in the process. Either possibility was entirely unacceptable. For this last assembly detail we consulted the artist whose very practical advice was to cement it in place with silicone calk. Finally assembled for a brief respite “Ethnic Man” stayed in the Wattis gallery. Eventually (thanks to the thoughtful addition of wheels) he moved to the second floor balcony where his hulking backlit form could be clearly seen at night from the south. From his high perch he has presided over all manner of events in the museum’s Great Hall ever since – including: exhibits, lectures, weddings, galas, and in football season, the University of Southern California’s official tailgate parties.