Sikkema Jenkins & Co presents ARLENE SHECHT: TURN UP THE BASS | MERLIN JAMES: PAINTINGS FOR PERSONS
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Detail: All in All, 2016
Glazed ceramic, painted and carved hardwood, steel
TURN UP THE BASS
OCTOBER 13 - NOVEMBER 12, 2016
Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is pleased to present Turn Up the Bass, an exhibition of new sculptures by Arlene Shechet on view from October 13, 2016 through November 12, 2016.
In Turn Up the Bass, Arlene Shechet continues to break new ground, presenting a generative new body of work that advances her long history of integrating object and pedestal. A master of glaze, she displays her technical virtuosity in these sculptures by using a new homemade clay to cast positive elements from the hollows of carved wood, concrete and steel. The clay undulates and circulates throughout these solid materials, as parts fit into, under and around each other. Erasing the boundary between base and sculpture, this interpenetrating process creates dynamic hybrid forms. At once structural and biological, Shechet’s sculptures are infused with a vital combination of incursion, vulnerability, strength and eroticism.
In a series of low to the ground multifaceted works, loosely based on the rocks and boulders surrounding her Hudson Valley studio, Shechet embraces contradiction by taking natural forms and materials and combining them with industrial, popular culture, and architectonic references. Peg Leg and Full On use intense colors and defy gravity; the former lifts off of the ground via a pad of clay and a steel peg while the latter cantilevers off of a cushion of craggy, moss-like ceramic. Full On also reveals platinum-gilded drawings made by worms, while a chartreuse carpet of glaze and paint pushes through a ruptured volcanic fissure in Face the Music.
The artist continues to mine the psychology of transitional space. Pairings and couplings abound. These works inhabit the intermediate area between subject and object, figuration and abstraction, color and form, and humor and pathos. This is evident in the large sculpture entitled The Body is an Ear with its implied movement and swish of a wooden skirt. Pierced asymmetrically by a linear void -- the ear, the sex, the window, the absent plane, and the space of imagination -- The Body is an Ear refers in equal parts to architecture, figure, costume, and 18th century furniture, paying homage to Brancusi, Marisol, and Sophie Tauber-Arp. Visually held together by ephemeral gold leaf, this impressive construction is precariously balanced on a carved hoof and a glazed ceramic block. Bringing a refined and intensely manipulated aesthetic vocabulary into the rough-hewn and rugged composition, Shechet pushes against the serene vision of the natural world by incorporating 18th century elements fresh from her intervention at The Frick.
The title, Turn Up the Bass, refers not only to the intermingling of object and pedestal, but also to the harmonies Shechet reveals when she brings deeply mysterious musical tones to the foreground of her life-affirming sculptures. As the Boston Globe’s Sebastian Smee, in his review of her 2015 twenty-year survey at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, has written, “It is in the harmonies and tensions…that these works cough, splutter, and sing. If they really are the great analogs to interior life that I feel them to be, it’s because Shechet knows that this life, expertly attended to, has its own folds and wrinkles, its own hollows and protuberances; that it is at once…unreasonable, asymmetrical, and ultimately unknowable.”
This is the influence of the bass: no longer static, in Shechet’s hands it becomes an instrument of the uncanny. Her sculptures have a subconscious musical vibration: restless, undulating, and unpredictable, it is the underlying structure that weaves itself, like a flexible backbone, throughout this exhibition.
Arlene Shechet is a sculptor widely acknowledged for bringing the ceramic medium to the forefront of the art world. Her work has been exhibited extensively in the United States as well as abroad. All at Once, a critically-acclaimed 20-year survey of Shechet’s work, was on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston in 2015, and was accompanied by a catalogue published by Delmonico/Prestel.
In recent years, Shechet’s work has included a number of historical museum installations. Porcelain, No Simple Matter: Arlene Shechet and the Arnhold Collection, an exhibition of Meissen Porcelain chosen and installed by Shechet and including the artist’s own works, is currently on view at The Frick Collection through April 2, 2017. In addition, From Here on Now, a solo exhibition and curatorial intervention, will be on view at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. from October 20, 2016 through May 7, 2017.
Shechet is the recipient of numerous awards including a Guggenheim Foundation Award and the 2016 CAA Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work. Her work is in many distinguished public and private collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, and National Gallery in Washington DC.
PAINTINGS FOR PERSONS
OCTOBER 13 - NOVEMBER 12 , 2016
Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is pleased to present Paintings for Persons, an exhibition of work by Merlin James on view from October 13, 2016 through November 12, 2016.
James's solo exhibitions frequently feature new paintings alongside ones dating back across his career. As such they are sometimes wrongly classed as retrospectives or surveys. Rather, working and re-working images over extended periods, James presents all his paintings – from student works right to the latest – as essentially concurrent, to be viewed in the present, even while the changes in their physical and stylistic 'look' and their connotations and associations change through time. Such changes are actively engaged with as part of the complex way works of art continue to signify. His present exhibition again juxtaposes earlier and more recent paintings, and includes the diverse range of modes, formats and imagery for which the artist is known.
The exhibition is further built around several works the titles of which include a dedication to someone; sometimes an artist James may have an affinity with; sometimes a person he knows or has known personally; in some cases closer friends or family members.
The practice of dedicating works in this way is less common among visual artists than among poets or authors of books. To dedicate – as to entitle – is to use language performatively (in philosopher John Austin's sense), and it has many implications. For James it is part of his on-going play with factors like signature, date, title and even frame – apparently peripheral or adjunct material that is nevertheless part of the work, effecting its meaning.
The act of dedication highlights questions of audience and reception by specifying one privileged addressee. The more general audience is put in the position of 'listening in' to an exchange between the artist and the recipient of the dedication. In a sense the work is even gifted to the dedicatee, without becoming his or her physical possession, and a question is raised as to what constitutes the true ownership of a work of art.
Several of James's dedications are to known artists (and he will sometimes title works with artist's names). In such cases his long and involved dialogue with painting's history and evolution is especially evident. In more personal dedications – perhaps to a parent, or partner – we are made conscious of private biographical contexts that may or may not be permissible information in a critical reading of the painting. James has spoken and written frequently of the critical concept of 'biographical heresy' – the reduction of works of art to illustrations of their creator's life story. A number of portraits and figure paintings feature in the current show, and questions as to the anonymity/specificity of these and other subjects depicted are also alluded to in the dedications.
Despite the conventional propriety of sometimes only giving first name, or initials, nevertheless to dedicate a work of art remains paradoxically a more public than private act, presupposing other viewers for whom a hint is offered of a possibly unknowable 'back story' behind the creation of the piece. Most works of art are inevitably addressed to an audience of relative strangers, and ultimately to those coming to the work after the lifetime of the artist or of any individual for whom the work was supposedly made.
Indeed, as a sub-category of titling or naming, dedication may even suggest parallels or equivalences between paintings and persons – the senses in which works of art are also individual, having unique character and 'personality'. They finally present themselves to the viewer independently of the author's envoi.
Born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1960, Merlin James studied in London at the Central School of Art and the Royal College of Art. He currently lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland.
James’s work has been exhibited widely, including in recent solo shows at CCA Glasgow (2016); Kunstverein Freiburg (2014); Parasol Unit, London; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2013). In 2007 James represented Wales at the 52nd Venice Biennale.