While perhaps most known for her ceramics, Arlene Shechet has never limited herself to a specific medium. From her early Buddha sculptures of the 1990s to experimentations in wood, metal, paper, glass, resin, paint, and cast concrete, Shechet expands the expectations of sculptures to create artworks that saddle beauty and the grotesque, fluidity and rigidity, and chaos and order.Read More
Many of Arlene Shechet's Buddha sculptures are made of plaster, depicting the seated Buddha (Untitled [Buddha], ca. 1995) or his head mounted on a small pedestal with dribs of hardened plaster visible (Madras Head, 1997), although later works such as Standing Buddha (2005) shows him upright in glass. The artist's adoption of Buddhist iconography was inspired by an incidental connection—following the death of a friend, Shechet created mound-like sculptures and discovered that they evoked the seated figures. Rather than practicing the religion, however, she considered its ideas as a way of reorienting her perspective as an artist in the studio.
In the 1990s, Arlene Shechet also started incorporating the stupa motif into her work. A mound-like structure that houses relics and serves as a place of meditation in Buddhist architecture, the stupa formed the basis of the blueprints she cast onto the paper bowls and vases in her 'Once Removed' series (1998). In Building (2003), the shapes of the ceramics recall stupas; they are also partly inspired by the skyline of New York, where the artist had been living since 1983, seen from various points on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Arlene Shechet began to work closely with clay in 2006, drawn to its plasticity. Her clay sculptures are often imbued with humour and suggestive of the human body, such as the protrusions facing upward in Good Ghost (2007) or the orange body with what resembles a belly button in No Noise (2013). She often treats her pedestals as a form of architecture in itself, considering it with the same weight as the artwork that sits on it. The tall pedestal in Above Water (2018), for example, complements the blue sculpture that sits atop it with its expanse of blue, creating the impression of water that the title suggests. In another memorable example, Raga (1999), the artist placed a Buddha sculpture on a chair, which was in turn supported by four upturned bowls for each leg.
A sense of motion resonates throughout many of Arlene Shechet's works. In A Night Out (2011), the hardness of the wooden plinth contrasts with the lyrical buoyancy of the purple ceramic sculpture sitting atop it, which brandishes a mushroom-like head and two outstretched arms as if dancing. Some lean to the side, seemingly about to topple, such as the mound of coiled clay in Sleepless Color (2009–2010) or the stack of glazed ceramic and wooden blocks in The Crown Jewel (2020).
Selected solo exhibitions include Skirts, Pace Gallery, New York (2020); Arlene Shechet: Sculpture, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects (2019); From Here on Now, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (2016); Meissen Recast, RISD Museum, Providence (2014); and Slip, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York (2013). All at Once, a major presentation of Shechet's work from the 1990s onwards, was held at the Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston, in 2015.
Arlene Shechet lives and works in New York.
Biography by Ocula | 2020
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