In her masterful show of idiosyncratic sculptures in clay, titled “The Sound of It,” Arlene Shechet turned an astute eye to the painterly effects of glaze chemistry as well as to her own past work. For the most part, Shechet operates outside the traditions of ceramics, effortlessly referencing paintings as well as sculptural works from various eras and nations without seeming the least bit like a cultural tourist. The multipart So and So and So and So and On and On (2010) caps stacklike pedestals of black-edged white “bricks” with two clearly hollow, pumpkinlike “heads,” large pink orbs with irregular surfaces. (Shechet’s pedestals, whether constructed ahead of time or improvised at installation, are in the end always integral to her works.) The piece brings to mind some of Shechet’s earlier series of Buddha heads, but altogether the effect is that of a three-dimensional Guston, austere and antic at the same time.
Other works loom, list and flow, resembling segments of landscape. Looking at them is similar to examining Chinese scholar rocks or cumulus clouds. Reclining Incline (2009-10) is a recumbent form billowing back and upward. It is glazed a yellowish verdigris with several little turquoise pools over pink clay. A spigot or ventricle form near its base (a block of hardwood painted an intense medium blue) returns to the notion of hollowness—a lumpy inflating or deflating balloon. Other works are made of piles or bunches of clay coils (an element of rudimentary pot-making), variously glazed, and each is structured with an unlikely movement or surprising counterbalance. Because of the Wind (2010) resembles yardage of cording blown and bunched around a missing fencepost. It rests on stacked kiln bricks glazed black and speckled, and sandwiched between steel plates. The glaze on the coils is an amazing gray-taupe with the texture and finish of flocking or velvet. In Unheard Of (2009-10), another headlike ceramic form rocks backward and rises to a cobra-esque protective crown. It rests on a pedestal that resembles a tall welded steel stool or table with thin legs.
In this show, Shechet was clearly on a creative roll. Along with John Newman and Vincent Fecteau, she is granting new vitality and an ambiguous poetry to small-to-medium-scale polychrome sculpture, for some time given over to appropriation, empty irony or old-school welded steel.
Photo: Arlene Shechet: So and So and So and So and On and On, 2010, glazed and fired ceramic, glazed kiln bricks, two parts, each approx. 50 inches high; at Jack Shainman.