In only a few days, the first U.S. exhibition of Arlene Shechet’s work in Meissen will open at the RISD Museum; this is your notice that it’s time to plan a trip to Rhode Island. Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast (January 17 – July 6, 2014) will show work the RISD alumn produced during her 2012-2013 residency at the German porcelain manufacturer Meissen along side more than 50 Meissen works from the RISD Museum, some of which date back to the 18th century.
During her residency at Meissen, Shechet apparently had the run of the place. She worked closely with Meissen’s artisans, absorbing their techniques and traditions and she used this knowledge for her own ends. She has achieved the rare feat of creating Meissen that transcends tchotchke and gone beyond the one-dimensional critique that is inherent in simple appropriation. The work is pure Shechet—funky and weird—at the same time it celebrates and subverts the language and craftsmanship of one of the world’s oldest and most famous luxury brands.
Meissen is not just found in museums and china hutches anymore, visit their website (the link is provided below) and you’ll find the 300 year old German porcelain manufacturer has branched out to almost all things luxury. They offer couture, jewelry, and interior design, and of course, porcelain, some that is fresh off the manufacturing floor and also what they refer to as “Historical Meissen.”
Many of the great porcelain manufacturers of Europe have brought in artists and designers to keep their products fresh, Sèvres of France has done so very successfully and Lladró of Spain has also made attempts to be contemporary. Meissen has created what they call an “artCampus” that is entirely devoted to realizing contemporary artists’ visions. Some artists adopt Meissen formats, using their history as a luxury objects for cultural critique, and other artist’s treat Meissen as a very sexy medium in which to pursue their interests. Arlene Shechet did both.
It makes sense when you think of her previous ceramic work, that Shechet would be drawn to cast offs and molds. (Click the link below for Garth Clark’s review of her recent show, Slip, at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. and see for yourself.) According to the museum notes, “Shechet made plaster reproductions of original factory molds, which she then assembled to produce a variety of cast, hand-painted porcelain forms; her resulting “molds of molds” merge what is precious and luxurious with the industrial and usually hidden.”
On January 15th, Artforum posted “500 Words” by Shechet (as told to Dawn Chan) on the RISD show that sheds light on her choices to use aspects of Meissen that have up until now stayed behind the scenes:
These molds were industrial objects that looked to me like sculpture. They were very exciting visually, and the fact that they had a function made them even more exciting. The core of everything I did there became about exposing the mold in one way or another, revealing the system. Even in my pieces that have figurative elements, I’ve included the mold language of seams, parting lines, and symbols.
The workers loved it. People would just laugh—because I cast everything: serial numbers (the factory’s molds are all numbered), workers’ signatures, plaster drips. I wanted to make the series a celebration of the industrial object and the worker, but also to merge it with the extravagant object, the luxury material. Forming the hybrid was interesting to me. I pushed it by layering traditional motifs on some of the objects I cast—even gilding them and using platinum and twenty-four-carat gold—so that my production was a combination of high and low. And I think the workers—and then the executives—appreciated that what had been hidden was being exposed.
In the images below are installation views of Shechet’s Breaking The Mold at Nature Morte, Berlin in 2012, a solo show of work made during her Meissen residency. It gives a sense of Shechet’s approach to installing her work, which is a natural extension of her questioning and often upending the status quo.
Here is more from Shechet’s Artforum text that gives us an idea of what to expect of the exhibition design for Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast:
The show takes place in two areas of the museum: the historic Porcelain Room—an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century period room—and then in a contemporary gallery. In the historic gallery, most of the work is eighteenth-century Meissen, subverted with some of my recent works. In the contemporary gallery, it’s the reverse: my stuff with a smattering of historic things. My basic curatorial conceit is to use absolutely every one of the museum’s several hundred Meissen objects. Rather than creating a hierarchy of what to show and not to show—figures versus tableware, “art” versus the functional, what’s perfect and not—I’m including every piece in the collection. In the contemporary gallery, I’ve conceived the room as a whole to reiterate the idea of the mold. Two opposing walls include furniture I designed such that one side is the negative of the other, so the actual walls are like positives and negatives of one another. With the exhibition of porcelain pieces, protection is just a huge issue. I’ve tried to be innovative about it: On one wall there are sideboards and protruding shelves, and on the opposite wall everything is sunken and embedded. In other places, I’ve sliced through the wall so that you can see the fronts and backs of every piece.
Amy Albracht is the General Editor of CFile.
Above image: Arlene Shechet, Flower Lounger, 2012. Glazed porcelain 5.5 x 12 x 9.25 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.