Slip is an exhibition of new work by Arlene Shechet at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York (October 10 – November 16, 2013) and her first solo show with this venue after a five year period of hopping up the gallery tree as her fame has grown. She is one of the artists at the forefront of the current wave of interest in clay-based sculpture.
This is Shechet’s largest and most ambitious work to date and her best. She is shifting away from her ‘Organ Harvesting Festival for Mutants’ look. Her newer work is tough: muscle that flaunts its sexuality. One of the key pieces, The Possibility of Ghosts, a grey sculpture whose surface absorbs light, brings together both figurative and architectonic associations, enjoying awkward humor and the stolid presence of an effigy from another planet.
Roberta Smith, a big fan of Shechet’s work, wrote in the New York Times, “In her latest, largely terrific exhibition, Arlene Shechet continues to expand upon the ceramic vessel as a one-stop art medium that combines painting and sculpture while pushing her work in increasingly diverse directions, with exuberant polymorphous, often comic results”. The caveat “largely” was a reference to the artist’s combination of hard-edged boxes. I must agree that the “boxes are too obvious in their attempt to reconcile the organic and the geometric”. Particular and Specific or Something is a good case in point.
Shechet is drawn to the duality of the material: initially soft, wet, and unstable, and the gallery comments, “it becomes a time-based medium as air promotes hardening and firing creates strength. This material invites resistance. Body to body, hollow and breathing, the sculptures have a quality Paul Ryan, in Sculpture Magazine, has called ‘generative friction,’ a dynamic tension that, while it both attracts and repels, is indispensable to both art and life.”
The gallery also made what I felt was an odd claim, announcing the work has the power of Peter Voulkos and the wit of Ken Price. At a stretch, I can get the Voulkos connection, particularly his later, less successful Stack pots where he inserted brick shapes, and more effectively, in Shechet’s Not to Mention, for me, the masterpiece of the show.
The Price connection was unfathomable. Wit is not part of her art. Droll humor sometimes, but not wit. They are too heavy footed for that. All Sound comes closest.
Then I worked it out. We are in the age of search engine writing. Every text is peppered with words and names designed to connect to success beacons. So I went back and looked at publicity for ten other ceramic shows from the last six months, every one found a way to mention Ken Price in their releases. Voulkos, alas, appeared less often.
In an interview about preparing for this show with Ruthie Abel in her Huffington Post blog, one answer stood out as being most revealing about her visceral involvement with clay, “I never draw. That would kill it. That is completely antithetical to everything I do. My whole practice is based on being present with what’s going on, so I never figure it out beforehand. I would be bored to death. I deal with the history of art. There are conversations with contemporary art, historic art, industrial objects, nature, but if it goes too far in any direction, I destroy it.”
The exhibition’s title, Slip, alludes to Shechet’s idiosyncratic forms, which seem to slip or morph when viewed from different angles or on different days. Evoking both the feminine slip and the clay slop of the studio, Slip also suggests the ‘slipping’ or falling of slapstick comedy and the slip of the tongue that lets something reveal its deeper nature. Parting lines that traditionally appear during industrial production when casting from molds are incorporated into the sculptures, allowing for drawing. These seams contribute implicit tension to the work.
Slip also refers to the liquid clay used in casting, a process Shechet explored during her residency at the Meissen Manufacture. The residency provided a platform for experimentation with porcelain, specifically mold-making and casting methods, that leaves its evidence in these latest works. The RISD Art Museum will present an exhibition of Shechet’s Meissen porcelain sculptures January 17 through July 16, 2014 and CFile will cover that show.
Shechet is the recipient of numerous awards including a John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, an Anonymous Was A Woman Artist Award, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, and an American Arts and Letters Award for Art. Her work is included in important public collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; and the Walker Art Center. She lives and works in New York City and upstate New York.
Garth Clark is the Curator and Chief Editor of Cfile.
Above image: Arlene Shechet’s exhibition Slip at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York (October 10 – November 16, 2013). Image courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
A studio visit with Arlene Shechet recorded in February 2012.