Fuller Gross Gallery, San Francisco, California
Purchased by Akron Art Museum, February 20, 1990
2014: "Language in Art" 4/12/14 - 9/14/14, Isroff Gallery, Akron Art Museum
2007 - 2011: "Opening exhibition, Haslinger galleries" 7/7/07 - 11/6/11, Akron Art Museum
1997 - 1998: "A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1996: "Akron's Own Rings: Five Passions in World Art" 6/22/96 - 8/11/96, Akron Art Museum
1994: "Selections from the Collection" 6/25/94 - 8/21/94, Akron Art Museum
1991 - 1992: "Focus on the Collection: A 70th Anniversary Celebration" 11/3/9 - 1/5/92, Akron Art Museum
1991: "Current Events: Recent Acquisitions on Social Issues" 4/20/91 - 7/14/91, Akron Art Museum
Work was cast at Walla Walla Foundry, Inc. in Walla Walla, Washington.
Work was made using lost wax process from a silicone rubber mold.
metal finish: Red pigment/ Potash Sulferated/ Ferric Nitrate/ Cupric.
Cast no. 2 edition of 3.
Signed under chin: "Arneson 1983": Verso, "Arneson" inside rectangle; "2/3 1983
Nuke News, 1983
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Robert Arneson lived his entire life in northern California. He studied ceramics first at San Jose State University and then at Mills College in Oakland, receiving an M.F.A. in 1958. Most importantly, Arneson taught for almost thirty years at the University of California, Davis, and during that time his role grew from that of regional maverick to influential national leader in ceramic sculpture.
By 1963 Arneson had discovered the distinctive, raucous voice that would characterize his work for the next two decades. Translating the humor of East Coast Pop Art to a California dialect, he injected rough surfaces, gaudy color, and sexual jokes into his ceramic objects, whether toilets, typewriters, or self-portraits. Arneson became the key advocate for the notion that ceramics did not need to be restricted to functional pieces or abstract objects for aesthetic contemplation. Instead, he himself created objects that unmistakably plunged into the Age of Aquarius and the Vietnam War.
Self-portraiture and the history of modern art were two of Arneson’s great interests. His innumerable satirical depictions of himself and of famous artists such as Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock became well known during the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, a dramatically new dimension appeared in his work. Following continued bouts with cancer and a commission to memorialize the assassinated San Francisco mayor George Moscone, Arneson's preoccupation with violence and militarism led him to create the most powerful works of his career and to explore a new medium, bronze.
Nuke News brings together many of Arneson’s concerns. It is thoroughly contemporary in its political impulse but also has strong roots in art history. It is cast in bronze, a traditional medium for major commissions and war monuments, and it is based on Picasso’s Death Head, a bronze skull that Arneson saw in a 1967 exhibition of Picasso’s sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.1 Cast from a wax model, Nuke News is an isolated skull. An alternate version, Ground Zero, places the same head on a shallow base that forms a targetlike X. One of Arneson's large drawings related to Nuke News is also in the collection of the Akron Art Museum, a gift from the artist.
Although Nuke News is serious—even gruesome—it reveals Arneson’s noted wit in the poignant black humor of incised phrases memorializing the language of the nuclear age. Reminiscent of surviving graffiti from Pompeii or Rome, the inscriptions range from the names of physicists Oppenheimer, Teller, and Fermi to an enumeration of radioactive elements and the nicknames of the bombs deployed over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the colloquial phrases and epithets most clearly reveal Arneson’s sardonic vision:
LETS DROP THE BIG ONE NOW/HELLO RUSSIA/ATOMS FOR PEACE/ARMAGEDDON/GOTCHA/LETS WIN ONE FOR THE GIPPER/M.A.D. MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION/X-RATED/X-RAYS/NUCLEAR WAR HEAD/MAN UNKIND/ARMS RACE VS. HUMAN RACE/BETTER DEAD THAN RED/ATOMS FOR PEACE/ON THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION/FUCK THE WORLD
- Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001
1. Benezra, 79.
Benezra, Neal. Robert Arneson: A Retrospective. Des Moines: Des Moines Art Center, 1986.
Nash, Steven A. Arneson and Politics: A Commemorative Exhibition. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1993.