A hint of teal leads our gaze down from a perfect black circle split into a two-meter-tall sculpture composed of interacting layers of painted hardwood, steel, glazed ceramic and silver leaf. The imposing totem object in a white-walled gallery challenges our perception, how we oscillate between indoor and outdoor spaces, and how we emotionally navigate the obscure spaces between the shapes in the sculpture. Natural light on the walls eliminates the need for electricity.
History Mystery (2022) is a highlight of Arlene Shechet’s solo show, Couple ofon display at ‘T’ Space, a nonprofit art gallery in Rhinebeck, New York, through August 28. The exhibition follows recent solo presentations in Hong Kong and Los Angeles and takes the work back to the Hudson Valley where Shechet lives and works. Couple of also coincides with GOODSan extensive group exhibition hosted by Shechet at the flagship Pace Gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, showcasing her curatorial outlook and inviting in an intimate setting and her interactions with other renowned artists, many close friends.
The main installation in ‘T’ Space consists of three sculptures, each executed in a different material (wood carvings with steel, cast iron and glazed ceramics), displayed together to demonstrate Shechet’s mastery of mediums and her fluidity in fusing seemingly unrelated, contradictory forms underline and materials.
Shortly after the birth of her first child in 1986, Shechet began exploring a new technique: building a shape, splitting it in two, rejoining the halves, and taking the new shape apart again along a new axis. Years later, she realized the organic connection between motherhood and her creative journey with schism and jointure, which continues to permeate her unique practice.
Shechet’s signature biomorphic sculptures bursting with vibrant colours, combining technical skill and intuition, eschewing drawings or luminaries (framework around which a sculpture is built). Relying on improvisation and possibilities, Shechet creates ceramic works layered with glazes over multiple firings.
Shechet’s sculptures are an interplay of texture, color, materiality, imagination and a funny awkwardness to bring joy to the viewer. In general, we think of the literary interpretation of couplets as two lines of poetry that usually rhyme, but Shechet’s visual story arises from the formal balance between symmetry, partnership and the collaboration between artist and artwork.
We are humbled to meet Iron Twins (2022), two 650-pound cast iron molds that stand a little over two feet high and retain material traces of the original plaster molds, including tape marks and other defects arising from the casting process. We are reminded of the human form, full of its imperfections and unique features.
The exhibition extends outside to a site-specific work displayed on the nearby ‘T’ Space installation path. Spotlighta high-baked, partially glazed porcelain sculpture, is nestled between two trees and the natural rock formations of the 30-hectare forest reserve ‘T’ Space, which blends into the landscape.
“I was interested in finding a place to do something outside,” Shechet said, describing a walk through the reserve where she “came across a small mountainous rock. I saw a crack in it. And there were two trees that framed this site and I said ‘okay, that’s it, that’s my site’ We mapped the location and the fissure three-dimensionally with strings and sticks, and back in the studio we made a solid framework that defines the space of the fissure negative, basically building the inside of the rock, then I made a piece of white china from a few bits of china I had left over from my Madison Square Park project that I cast at the Kohler Foundation, and we installed it , and it was a beautiful image.”
Architect Steven Holl designed the cedar gallery space, named for its “T” shape, on a four-acre site near a 1952 stone “U” house, with a 2001 steel “L” addition. Free of plumbing and plaster, visitors enter the gallery via a sloping wooden ramp and exit the gallery via a large hinged wall on a wooden ramp. The gallery floats over the landscape, blurring the boundaries between nature and structure.
“The opportunity to be in the woods a little bit and have art, that’s the next frontier,” said Shechet, who is already planning a new show at ‘T’ Space.
Shechet renounced her heavy creations in Rhinebeck and flexed her curatorial muscles GOODSto bring together 50 diverse artists from different disciplines and genres and within and outside the Pace Gallery program, including Lynda Benglis, Huma Bhabha, Nicole Eisenman, Wifredo Lam, Arthur Jafa, Donald Judd, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Tony Smith, Mickalene Thomas, Lawrence Weiner and Stanley Whitney.
On display at Pace through August 19, GOODS parallels and informs Shechet’s sculpting practice, presenting work outside the art historical context and chronology, intuition guiding both in its creation and in its compilation. Shechet selects colleagues and artists she admires and presents the works in dialogue with each other from her inimitable perspective. She takes over an entire floor and conveys a familiar atmosphere that playfully welcomes us and takes away all pretensions.
Our first glimpse of GOODS is a wall covered in wallpaper created by Shechet to mirror the walls of Fran Lebowitz’s bedroom in Morristown, New Jersey, as captured in a 1974 portrait by Peter Hujar. A naked Lebowitz lies on her elbows, wrapped in polka-dot skins. Lebowitz’s casual look is characteristic of the tone Shechet spreads throughout the gallery, making us feel at home, in her smart aesthetic House.
“Being an artist, I feel liberated from putting on a show within art historical narrative. And also, being a sculptor in particular, I felt like I wanted to create more than just installation, not just hanging things around. When I saw that, I said we had to have this T-wall. It’s actually an irregular T,” Shechet explained during a private tour of the exhibition. “I immediately got the idea that I was going to make that wallpaper. It’s screen-printed, so it’s kind of satiny iridescent, which almost looked like New Jersey to me. If you look up a bit and see how the light falls, it’s almost very matte black. It is much more beautiful than the original wallpaper because it is handmade. I had the idea of making these walls as a free-floating sculpture, so they themselves are like my contribution, my sculpture in this, because traditionally I wouldn’t want to put my own work in a show that I put together. But putting it up, designing it, choosing all the works, and also painting this line, and that color, relates to my work.”
Shechet painted a meticulous, subtle line on the interior walls to gently draw our attention to how the works are hung. Every detail reinforces Shechet’s dedication to giving us a new way to approach a range of well-known works and works we’ve never seen before. Her unorthodox point of view offers us a refreshing opportunity to re-imagine how we experience GOODSrethinking the myriad fungible associations between art and artists.
“In my own titles of things, I like things to have multiple meanings,” Shechet said. “That kind of slip and stuff is very intriguing. I love it when it becomes a verb and a noun and an adjective, it has all those possibilities.”