The body as a delicate negotiation between inside and out, container and contained, may be the central concern of Arlene Shechet’s influential, materials-based practice. This came to light in “All at Once,” the artist’s first survey exhibition, a spacious and informative presentation of more than 150 objects, dating from 1993 to the present, in cast paper and plaster, blown glass, and glazed ceramic.
Casting techniques have long proved generative for the artist, from her paper vessels of the mid-1990s to Building (2003), an abstract cityscape of porcelain vases made in the wake of September 11. In an immersive installation documenting her 2012–13 residency at Germany’s Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, founded in 1710, several dozen dreamlike amalgamations of 18th-century figurines and tableware reinterpret porcelain slip-casting by foregrounding its molds. In one emblematic example, the pearly profile of a bear peers out from the chalky, half-open carapace in which it was formed, directing its single gimlet eye at the Orientalizing tropes of period artifacts, as if to turn them inside out.
Most captivating were the 25 standing sculptures from an ongoing series begun in 2007. Each consists of a bulbous, usually hollow clay form, often with protruding feelers or orifices, spanning a fantastically diverse range of textured surface treatments. They balance solo on specifically calibrated understructures—a beveled post, a plywood platform, a ready-made stool—that heighten their insistently anthropomorphic presence. Tattletale (2012), for example, poised on a Plexiglas box, is a ropey, brain-like tangle of coiled clay that appears to be overtaking a stepped concatenation of glazed kiln bricks.
Shechet’s sculptural recourse to firebricks effectively disrupts the boundary between work and kiln. This interest in relationships between object and surrounding, sculpture and support, extends to the design of the exhibition, for which Shechet herself is responsible.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 89.