Tilted Channel from Full Steam Ahead, 2017-18
powder-coated sand cast iron, powder-coated cast aluminum, cast iron, glazed firebrick, steel
65 x 96 x 32 inches
Arlene Shechet is known for creating ceramics that by-pass the intimate, domestic and useful objects of the home, bringing the material into the wider world of sculpture. In recent residencies in Germany, at the world-renown Meissen porcelain factory, and at the John Michael Kohler Art Center's Artist Residency program in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Shechet has scaled up her materials, adding muscle and might to her surreal objects that confound human and nature, abstraction and figuration, serious high art and playful children's toys.
Tilted Channel is from a series of works, titled Full Steam Ahead, commissioned by Madison Square Park, New York. Rather than placing her work on the great lawn, she instead chose a more urban space—the concrete reflecting pool that is emptied every year from fall through late spring. Shechet was interested in creating works that would interrupt the visitor's daily hustle through the Park by designing works that double as furniture.
There is a sly animistic sense to Tilted Channel. We see a decorative brick wall with what appears to be a bright yellow bird buried upside down in the bricks, one claw grasping, the other letting go. Or is that a human whose hands have morphed into a wrench and a file? The "hands" are actually a sprue, the tool used to help cast motten materials like porcelain. The surreal quality of this work is reminiscent of a fairy tale, where humans and animals morph into dreamy figures that frighten or engage.
The placement of Shechet's work for Sculpture Milwaukee provides Tilted Channel with another chance to insert itself into a much-trafficked urban space. Indeed, every downtown is a tussle between the natural environment displaced by cars and buildings, roadways and sidewalks. The clean modemist lines of the white building backdrop highlights the more natural form of the yellow bird. Tilted Channel becomes a monument to the birds and animals that have gathered around Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River to take advantage of the region's natural abundance.
The series title Full Steam Ahead is based on a phrase by Union Admiral David Glasgow Farragut*_ immortalized in a statue in Madison Square Park when he ordered his naval troops to break the Confederate blockade at Mobile Bay. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!", suggests going for broke, doing the right thing. Shechet's work goes for broke in terms of her materials, but she also has integrated an explicit political message as well. With her first public works of the Full Steam Ahead series, Shechet sought to undermine the almost exclusive male-warrior monument that still populates the landscape by celebrating the other species that share our earth. Shechet is part of the artistic reconsideration of how, and who, we celebrate in public sculpture.
Arlene Shechet was born in 1951 in New York, where she lives and works. She studied at New York University and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
One-person museum exhibitions have been held at: Madison Square Park, New York; the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha; the Phillips Collection, Washington; the Frick Collection, New York; the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence; the Anderson Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Idaho; and the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington Seattle, among others.
Recent gallery shows have been held at: Susanne Vielmetter Projects, Los Angeles, Almine Rech Gallery, Paris; Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago; Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London; Laura Reynolds Gallery, Austin; Nature Morte Gallery, Berlin; James Kelly Gallery, Santa Fe, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; and Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica;
Her work is in distinguished public and private collections including: the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, among others.
Shechet is the subject of an episode of PBS's Art 21 and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Artists Project. She is the recipient of numerous prizes including the 2016 CAA Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work; a John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship Award, 2004; the Anonymous Was a Woman Artist Award; and the Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant, 2010; as well as several New York Foundation for the Arts awards.