Arlene Shechet, "Slip"

At Slip, Arlene Shechet's recent solo exhibition of her latest ceramic concoctions at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., "dialogue" is the operative word. There is the dialogue that takes place between the artist and her materials--clay in all of its states and layer upon layer of glazes. There is the "conversation," in Shechet's words, between the individual works themselves and with the viewers who navigate among them, each one ensconced on its own carefully considered pedestal. And there is the dialogue between the different parts of each piece, which ranges from poignant to bawdy to elegant to funny over the surface of their generous and ever-changing forms.

All of her works, in fact, are pocked with orifices, many of which suggest mouths or lips, all of which provide points of entry and exchange with the outside world. In pieces like Not to Mention and No Matter What (both 2013), Shechet seems to play with the functionality of the vase, defined by its hollowed out, perpetually gaping form, as if always at the ready for the admittance of flowers. These two fleshy, vase-like forms, on the contrary, are non-functional, their openings morphed into fat, frowning lips--perpetual pouts that emit a sense of endearingly clownish disappointment (or defiance?) at their inability to admit anything.

In other works, little holes subtly interrupt Shechet's massing, bodily shapes. They read like rounded mouths exclaiming, "oh!" Some even seem to drool, with slick, colored glaze dribbling out of the "oh!" and leaving a wet trail.

Among the most expressive sculptures in this eminently expressive grouping is No Noise (2013). An unassuming work, with its burnt-orange, sandy glaze and its pliant folds and bulges, it catches the eye and holds it, over and over again, from everywhere in the room. You simply can't stop looking at it, because it just won't quit: its shape shifts constantly, fluidly, beguilingly, morphing from a jauntily strolling prehistoric creature to a capacious purse set down in a rush to a potbellied, headless body in the midst of taking a spill. To name only a few of its shapely associations. It encapsulates what's at the heart of all of the works in this exhibition: a discourse on the physical-visual possibilities of clay, pushed well beyond utilitarian ends.