Shechet’s Shenanigans at the RISD Museum
In this grouping in the museum’s Porcelain Gallery, Shechet literally turns the notion of fine Meissen porcelain on its head.
ceramist and RISD alumna Arlene
Shechet MFA 78 CR has long
been known for her subversive sense of humor and for embracing contradiction in
her work. In addition, she “expand[s] upon the ceramic vessel as a one-stop art medium that
combines painting and sculpture while pushing her work in increasingly diverse
directions,” according toNew York Times art critic and RISD honorary degree recipient Roberta Smith.
Last week the
artist’s playful new exhibition Arlene
Shechet: Meissen Recast opened
at the RISD Museum. Set in both the classical Porcelain Gallery and in the
contemporary Upper Farago Gallery, the show juxtaposes the museum’s extensive
collection of roughly 200 historic Meissen figurines and tableware against her
own offbeat sculptures, created during a recent residency at the 300-year-old
porcelain factory in Germany.
been interested in humor and combining new and old,” Shechet told reporters in
advance of the show’s opening on Thursday. “I enjoy seeing my pieces in
conversation with historical objects.”
During her residency, Shechet – whose work is included in the permanent
collections at the Whitney Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the
Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others – worked alongside Meissen
artisans to learn their techniques and soak up the company’s internal
traditions. She made plaster reproductions of original factory molds, which she
then assembled to produce a variety of cast, hand-painted porcelain forms that
reveal much about her process. The resulting “molds of molds” merge the
precious and luxurious with the industrial and mundane, both celebrating and
subverting the language and craftsmanship of the world’s preeminent porcelain
In the ornate
wooden cases of the museum’s Porcelain Gallery, Shechet shows themed groupings
of her work juxtaposed with traditional Meissen pieces. Carefully placed mirrors
reflect opulent crystal chandeliers and expose the backs and undersides of
objects on display. Figures peek out from behind stacks of Meissen tableware.
And the artist’s own partially glazed pieces stand in stark contrast to the
painstakingly glazed and painted refinement of the factory originals, openly
revealing every Meissen mold mark. Shechet shows that she has as much respect
for the tableware – the “humble little saucers” – as she does for the intricate
figurines, noting that “a cup is an amazing sculpture, incorporating all the
language of sculpture.”
the Upper Farago Gallery, the balance of the exhibition shifts from mostly
Meissen to mostly Shechet. Here visitors are treated to more of the sculptures
she created in residence, working alongside Meissen’s current artisans and making
use of original factory molds dating back to the 18th century. Her
goal was not to faithfully reproduce the past but to make new, unexpected
connections and create sculptures that draw attention to the imperfections in
the original molds – the screws, the fingerprints, the seams.
highlighting the most functional elements of the chunky plaster molds with
choice glazes or manipulated rococo patterns,” Shechet says, “I’ve aimed to
invert the traditional hierarchy of artist, artisan and lowly factory worker.
I’ve taken industrial parts and transformed them into luxury objects.” With Hex Vase 50039, for example, she uses
24-karat gold to highlight the original serial number of the mold.
Shechet’s current work may seem less physically off-balance than her past
pieces (which she has described as “unseemly . . . a bit of physical comedy”), Meissen Recast offers an abundance of psychological curveballs. In Laying Lion, a woman in blue and white
crushed beneath a Meissen brick used in the production process lies in a pool
of her own (blue and white) blood. Can
Can is a simple white bowl – utilitarian except that a woman’s colorful feet
and white petticoats protrude from its center.
Meissen Recast, which continues through July 6, is built
around these little surprises and unexpected angles. “Sculpture,” says Shechet,
“is all about seeing the whole object.”
, RISD Museum