‘I always like something in my work to be raw,’ says Arlene Shechet, walking ebulliently amongst 18 unseen works on the morning her solo show opens in Pace Gallery’s gargantuan new Manhattan home at 540 West 25th Street. The sun has just come out and she’s pleased with how her towering cast bronze sculptureOomph, 2020 looks on the new terrace of the 75,000 sq ft Bonetti/Kozerski Architecture-designed Chelsea gallery. It’s the first time the terrace is being used to present a work. ‘I always have some sense of bringing the inside out, and the outside in,’ she says. 

‘I like the feeling of precariousness – it makes you feel alive’ 

Shechet, visibly energetic, embraces the physicality her work commands. Her sculptures are made from enormous slabs of storm-felled tree trunks (the knots filled in with brass), hunks of glazed ceramic, cast iron and steel, but there is a warmth and humour to her work which at times gives way to almost anthropomorphic configurations that might be missed from some angles. ‘It’s quite muscular what I do. I don’t mean that it doesn’t have a lightness and a female presence, but making sculpture is a very muscular tough activity,’ she says. 

Installation view of Arlene Shechet at Pace New York
Installation view of Arlene Shechet: Skirts, 540 West 25th Street, February 28 – April 25, 2020. Photography: courtesy Pace Gallery 

The composition of elements and unusual pairing of materials feel as natural as a game of free association, yet belies a serious, technical hands-on mastering of casting, carving, firing and building – and each piece could cause a hernia to lift. ‘There is a casual, not precious, way of assembling the works, but with a seriousness and purpose at the same time,’ says Shechet, who often works on six of seven different pieces simultaneously. ‘I like the feeling of precariousness – it makes you feel alive.’ 

Installation view of Arlene Shechet at Pace New York
Installation view of Arlene Shechet: Skirts, 540 West 25th Street, February 28 – April 25, 2020. Photography: courtesy Pace Gallery 

Shechet, who works between her studios in New York’s Tribeca and Hudson Valley and likes to ‘use words as material’, titled the show Skirts, as a subversive recasting of misogynist slang. ‘I wanted a word that was both a noun and verb’ she points out, ‘so that it was very open and has a lot of associations and people can read into it what they may. I’m not regulating the viewer, I’m not regulating how someone sees the work.’ §

Arlene Shechet at Pace New York
Installation view of Arlene Shechet: Skirts 540 West 25th Street February 28 – April 25, 2020. Photography: courtesy Pace Gallery