EVERYTHING OLD BECOMES NEW AGAIN
by Suzanne Volmer
Exploring the conceit of preciousness attached to Meissen branding, Arlene Shechet’s sculptures and the installation format she designed meet the antiques and object-filled Period rooms of the Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art in a head-on spoof and serious deconstruction of old versus new. What porcelain “is” and what it “was” are, frankly, very different things. Working at bridging that divide, Shechet explores an archived Old World ceramics vocabulary to create artworks about industrial slip casting and artist- driven narrative.
For this show, she requested that RISD exhibit all of the Meissen works in its permanent collection simultaneously with her new creations to reframe the past in a contemporary context. The Meissen Porcelain Factory, located outside of Dresden, Germany, has been in operation since 1720 and is a time capsule of production techniques from the 18th century to the present. Its lineage is very much at the heart of the 18th century European frenzy to master the allure of porcelain as a material and to secure its status. As a commodity, the luxury brand is in every respect about well-documented quality control.
Peter Nagy, gallery director at Berlin’s Nature Morte, arranged the artist-in- residence opportunity for Shechet and, among other things, it was a way for artist and dealer to develop an interesting show for Germany without the hassle of a value-added tax on importation. Shechet said that she likes factory environments and served as artist in residence at Meissen intermittently for two years where she apparently made a vast amount of sculpture.