Today from our friends at Big Red & Shiny, we bring you a review of Arlene Shechet‘s new works in porcelain at the RISD Museum. Notes author Anya Ventura, “Shechet frees the medium from its servitude to the decorative, allows it to be matter again, draws it back to the body, and puts it in play as a sculptural element.” This article was originally published on April 2, 2014.
In Arlene Shechet’s Meissen Recast at the RISD Museum, strips of clay lie in slag heaps atop intricately painted ceramic vessels. A delicate foot protrudes from the frilly underside of a petticoat. A figure lies trapped beneath a white kiln brick, splatters of pale blue and brown glaze leaking out like blood. There are endless strange protrusions and spillage, small feet and heads half-emerging from shapeless masses.
These works are the products of the artist’s residency at the Meissen factory in Germany, a palace of production whose 18th-century origins can be traced to the king of Poland’s insatiable desire for exotic porcelain. Created with the factory’s original molds, Shechet’s amorphous pieces are not quite vegetable, animal, or mineral, but something in between. The creations are exhibited alongside the museum’s collection of Meissen tableware and figurines, in both the contemporary gallery and in the period rooms of the museum’s Pendleton House.
Shechet’s work explores the dialectic exchange between the raw and the refined. Industrial excess is fused with the delicate and decorative; the result is a postmodern visual scramble of the original 18th-century Meissen pieces. Shechet uses glazes instead of acrylic paint to “fuse the skin with the body” in the process of firing. In her pieces, clay retains the memory of itself, preserving a sense of soft malleability. Her wild splotches of color, in the traditional Meissen palette, are punctuated with gold touches that recall Lynda Benglis as much as the gilded Baroque.