Arlene Shechet

“Instead of making a decision I just follow my instincts. That way I don’t have this goal hanging around my neck.”

Shechet’s site-specific installation ‘Full Steam Ahead’ is on view 9/25/18-4/28/19 in Madison Square Park. 'Full Steam Ahead’ features a series of new sculptures in porcelain, wood, steel, and cast iron installed around and within the emptied circular reflecting pool in the north of Madison Square Park. Shechet reconfigures the Park’s emptied circular reflecting pool with a series of sculptures, designing the space as an outdoor room or what Shechet calls “a manufactured version of nature.” Her installation straddles function and art by including seating for conversation, fostering interaction within the Park’s teeming urban site. Initially inspired by memories of the sunken living room in her grandparents’ apartment, she encourages visitors to step into the reflecting pool to linger and reflect.

Arlene was featured in issue 4, limited copies available here.

Interview by Laura Hoffmann

Portraits by Kate Orne

Studio shots of ‘Full Steam Ahead’ by Jeremy Liebman


Laura Hoffmann: Arlene, how do you divide your time between city and country?

Arlene Shechet: It’s organized so that I have a good deal of work time upstate, which is where I make most of my sculptures. In the city, I work on exhibitions, models, any two-dimensional objects, and all of my office stuff. And I always want to have some time to see art and some time to take walks. My schedule is fairly regimented, because my desk assistant is on duty at the end of the week, and my studio assistant, who helps move things upstate, at the beginning of the week. The first year I had my primary studio upstate I had to work hard to figure it out! Having two studios, how to break it up? I quickly came to the realization that it doesn’t make any sense at all to be making the same kind of work in both places, because then you’re always in the process of leaving something. Now I feel that the space in between, the space I’ve created by going away for a few days and coming back has helped my work, that it’s enforced objectivity. For an artist having new eyes, having fresh eyes, having that sense of engagement but removal is so hard to achieve. The separation has really worked for me to create that opportunity.

 LH: With that regimented schedule you probably have to sacrifice some of your social life?

AS: My social life has taken a huge hit. That is the main thing. But when I return to the city on Wednesday nights, and the day is done upstate — you know, how upstate, especially in the winter, you’re ready to crawl into bed with a book or a movie… everything is just getting awake in the city. I feel I have the best of both worlds. I’ve had a beautiful morning, and I have a reawakening at night. It’s funny; I feel it’s the only moment where I actually gain time, like another day has happened! [Laughs] Having dinner with a friend at 9 PM in the city is perfectly normal, when that would be impossible upstate.

 LH: And one is so receptive to all the glamour after a few days away. [Laughs]


AS: Oh yes, everyone looks amazing. You get on the subway, and everywhere is gorgeous humanity!

LH: Tell me about your house in Woodstock. Did you build it yourself?

AS: It’s from 1964, very odd in Woodstock, a flat-roof modernist house, very simple. I’d been looking for a house with a sloppy barn and lots of little rooms — everything I don’t have in my loft in the city. We ended up with a modernist house where I couldn’t put a sloppy barn because it would have ruined it, and it’s sort of like a loft. It’s the same basic construct we have in the city! [Laughs]

 LH: You built your upstate studio in 2008. That really changed your work, didn’t it?

AS: Having the bigger studio enabled me to breathe in a creative way, to breathe in terms of making things, and reassessing. I had a small kiln in the city. Everything broke, it was really, really difficult. That was part of the impetus to build a studio upstate. Of course now eight years later I feel like I need to have yet another studio. No matter how big you build it, your studio is never quite big enough. I built it especially not having a garage door on it, so I wouldn’t make gigantic things. I try to stop myself from going down that dangerous road. Years ago I used to make big things. They just become a noose around your neck.

Read the full interview in issue 4. Laura Hoffmann is a contributor to Art Forum