Arlene Shechet: Skirts
On ViewPace Gallery
Recent sculptures by Arlene Shechet are presented here in such a way as to ensure that there is no single overview of the exhibition. A wall facing the entrance to the gallery allows movement around both of its ends, giving viewers a choice in how they circulate through the space—to the right of this wall, one sculpture is also on the terrace of Pace’s new Chelsea building, bringing together inside and outside architecturally. This configuration is significant, as it brings to mind encounters with temples, gardens, or modernist architecture, all attentive to an engaged passage through or around exteriors, interiors, and things. As a group, the sculptures represent another change for this artist who is continuously open to, and perhaps insists on, finding new forms and materials.
As far back as 1988, Shechet noted something in an exhibition of Forrest Bess at Hirschl & Adler, namely that Bess’s work was between painting and sculpture; at Pace this observation is in full effect. Shechet’s sculptures are so invested with color and surface, as well as form, that painters such as Joan Miró, with The Crown Jewel (2020), and Pablo Picasso, with In My View (2020), come to mind. Picasso’s cubist collages and sculptures and Miró’s paintings and assemblage objects always evince color that demarcates contrasting and vital surface as a structure. This is in contrast to Henri Matisse for example, where color is a subject in and of itself and endlessly variable. In previous exhibitions, Alberto Giacometti, Giorgio Morandi, and Lucio Fontana have readily come to mind. Here, the frequent addition of wood such as sections of reclaimed trees (Shechet’s studio is now in the Hudson Valley) not only focuses the viewer on another connective element between the sculptures, but also adds a previously living material to those already used that were temporally animate due to processes of casting or firing. The Crown Jewel leans, reaching well above head height at 94 inches, and yet retains its dynamic equilibrium. A long section of sawn timber supports blue-black cast clay sections with red painted wood wedges, a partly painted wooden crescent shape atop like a diacritical mark, the colors found, as raw wood, or painted. In My View is a more compact piece, the center of gravity nearer the floor at 58 inches. Elements are slotted together: sections of painted timber, a steel sliver, bubbled white glaze on terracotta, and a dark clay cast, interlocked and leaning. Organic and geometric forms are further structured by light, absorbing or reflecting colored surfaces. Casting—taking parts from one sculpture and migrating these to another sculpture—makes of them a community of partially shared forms, the casts enjoying a further iteration in their reuse, what Aby Warburg referred to as “Nachleben,” the afterlife or survival of repeated forms or characteristics.
The sculptures reside somewhere between casual and purposeful making. Empathy toward the objects as composite entities certainly creates a complex anthropomorphic connection. The large outside sculpture, Oomph (2020), recalls Shechet’s earlier ceramic works: a cast concrete biomorphic creature, its formless plasticity evokes the interior fragility of a body at the same time as its containing, exterior, folding and flexible skin. Language, too, as the humorous titles suggest, is clearly another material, another element inviting possibility.
With an intense emphasis on color, the multi-tiered, often column-like structures achieve a fresh synthesis of painting and sculpture. This is more than it may at first seem: Shechet has long been interested in ideas from the West and the East—both Freudian psychoanalysis and Buddhist teaching—a practice that allows for the invention she excels at to encompass non-formal factors, or rather to integrate idea, desire, and process. Letting go, an attempt at not being there simply as a subjective self-expressive artist, does not lead to arbitrariness. As we see in these sculptures, it can mean that art may negotiate, manifest, and share an understanding of human experience indirectly through created objects, something we simply cannot do directly.