Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast / RISD Museum, Providence, USA

Arlene Shechet's Meissen Recast exhibition at RISD Museum

Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast / RISD Museum, Providence, USA
January 17 – July 6, 2014

In the first U.S. exhibition of her one-of-a-kind Meissen sculptures, Arlene Shechet presents works she produced during a recent artist residency at the world-renowned German porcelain manufacturer. Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast is a two-part exhibition on view at the RISD Museum from January 17 to July 6, 2014.

It is the utilitarian factory casts behind fine porcelain production, rather than the ornate ceramic confections, that inform Shechet’s “Meissen” series. Her range of sculpture brings to the fore the seams, plate impressions, indentations, inventory numbers, and other evidence of the industrial process that an 18th-century Meissen craftsman would have sought to erase. Almost every sculpture on view in the Museum’s Upper Farago Gallery is derived from one or more of 47 historic Meissen mold patterns, reconceived in unanticipated combinations of forms and scale. Shechet’s complete reinstallation of the Museum’s historic Meissen collection of figurines and tableware in the Porcelain Gallery completes the two-part show—connecting the past and present, fine arts and decorative arts.

“The Museum is excited to present this compelling new work by RISD alumna Arlene Shechet,” says John W. Smith, director of the RISD Museum. “Meissen Recast extends the Museum’s long and groundbreaking tradition of encouraging artists to use the collection—dating from Andy Warhol’s Raid the Icebox (1970) to Spencer Finch’s Painting Air exhibition (2012). By moving some of RISD’s Meissen figures—including the famous Monkey Band—from their normal location in the Porcelain Gallery to the contemporary Upper Farago Gallery and, conversely, inserting her own porcelain sculptures into the cases of the more traditional, wood-paneled room, she heightens our awareness and appreciation for the refined historical pieces and her own more organic, intuitive approach.”

Adjunct RISD Museum curator and exhibition organizer Judith Tannenbaum adds, “Arlene Shechet has become well known for ceramic sculpture that reveals the nature of her materials and working process. By casting fine porcelain in the Meissen factory’s forms designed for plaster, she makes fine porcelain objects out of industrial molds. The surprise is that by looking behind the scenes of this luxury production, which once represented a high-water mark in culture, she has created a body of work that is virtuosic in entirely contemporary terms.”

During her 2012-2013 residency at the Meissen Manufactory, Shechet gained access to all areas of the renowned production facility—working alongside Meissen artisans, learning their techniques, using their tools, and observing the company’s internal traditions. “If there is a common thread in these works, it is my desire to leave a remnant of the memory of the factory. So if a screw is there, I might have cast it along with a fingerprint—I find these inadvertent traces to be beautiful and also thrilling, because they show the original thought that went into the porcelain making and, perhaps, even something of the worker,” the artist explains.

The exhibition design of Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast also reflects the artist’s desire to upset cultural hierarchy. A number of tall vase-shaped objects are installed on the floor, with other works placed atop a deconstructed wooden table. Some of the Plexiglas vitrines are underneath, rather than on top of, pedestal bases. “Expect to see drawers coming out of the wall, like magic, and some of the Museum’s finest Meissen pieces displayed from all sides like abstract sculpture,” Shechet says.

Arlene Shechet (RISD MFA, Ceramics) has exhibited her work extensively, most recently in Slip, a solo exhibition that opened at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York City, in October 2013. Another solo show, That Time, was on view earlier in the year at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC, following its 2012 debut at the VCUarts Anderson Gallery in Richmond, VA.

Shechet is the recipient of numerous awards, including a John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, an Anonymous Was A Woman Artist Award, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, and an American Arts and Letters Award for Art; she was also the subject of a 2012 Art in America cover story. Her work is included in important public collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. She lives and works in New York City and upstate New York.

Arlene Shechet: Meissen Recast is supported by the Providence Pottery and Porcelain Club, Gretchen and William Viall, and the Robert Lehman Foundation.

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Above: Arlene Shechet, The Idol, 2012, Glazed Meissen porcelain and gold, 14 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 12 in. © Arlene Shechet. Courtesy of the artist.

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