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Issue 11

Frieze Masters ‘Studio’: Arlene Shechet

The sculptor talks about her studio in Kingston, Hudson Valley, USA, and her fascination with the unknowable history of familiar objects

BY Arlene Shechet in Frieze Masters , Interviews , Videos | 06 OCT 23
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Arlene Shechet: The studio is everywhere. The physical space is only one corner of that idea. When I leave the studio and separate myself from the stuff I’m making, I’m in a place of non- attachment, which is a much bigger creative space. Being in this liminal place allows me to live more dangerously, to make work that is less in line with the thing I made before. It’s a way of courting change and transformation. It’s why I’m a sculptor and not a painter. Sculpture embraces complexity and has a quality of resistance. Facing resistance, perversely, is interesting to me. Some of the awful places I’ve had to work could have buried me, but in my mind, I was able to go anywhere.

Arlene Shechet, Vernal Equinox: Together, 2023, glazed ceramic, powder coated steel, 56 × 41 × 25 cm. Photo:  courtesy: David Schulze
Arlene Shechet, Vernal Equinox: Together, 2023, glazed ceramic, powder coated steel, 56 × 41 × 25 cm. Photo: David Schulze

When I lived in Tribeca, there was a free space in the basement of my building. I cleared it out and built a studio, which allowed me to continue making work while having a family. It was a dream come true, and a very privileged situation for New York City. The basement was somewhat above ground, with just a few small windows facing a brick wall. After twenty years, I found myself desperate for some light. A year and a half ago I moved to my dream studio – a large brick building in the Hudson Valley. I tore down one of the levels to make 20-foot ceilings and turned the old parking lot into an enclosed courtyard. It’s the kind of studio that I used to see male artists having, where they would take their shirt off and get photographed sitting doing nothing. Now that I have this super-glamorous setting, the pressure is on.

I think the studio functions as a tool – it creates limitations and gives permissions. Now I have a lot of permission. When I built the studio off my house in Woodstock, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Judy Pfaff came to visit and asked why I didn’t put a garage door in. The answer was that I was intimidated and questioned what right I had to the studio. I didn’t want to make anything that I couldn’t carry with just one other person. Of course, now I have three garage doors. At least I’m not questioning.


Some of the awful places I’ve had to work could have buried me, but in my mind, I was able to go anywhere.


A handblown glass breast pump in Arlene Shechet’s studio, 2023
A handblown glass breast pump in Arlene Shechet’s studio, 2023. Photo: David Schulze

Many objects have accompanied me from studio to studio. One is a handblown glass breast pump. It’s interesting to me on many levels because it alludes to so many forms and ideas. It’s a small sculpture. It’s figurative in that it actually looks like a pregnant person. It enacts itself. It has a function. I love it as a socio-political object. This pump was clearly not about feeding the milk to your kids – the wet nurse was feeding them. It was about the mother relieving pressure on her breast. It’s probably more than a hundred years old. My work has a lot to do with parts coming together. In this object, I like the opacity of the rubber and the transparency of the glass.

A small double hexagonal object in Arlene Shechet’s studio, 2023. Courtesy: David Schulze
A small double hexagonal object in Arlene Shechet’s studio, 2023. Photo: David Schulze

Another item is a small double-hexagonal object that really is an abstraction. Kiki Smith gave it to me a number of years ago. I have come to see that it’s everything for me. It’s a three-dimensional colour wheel. It’s also a building, a stupa and a charm. I understand the history of the breast pump, but this object has a deep history that we’ll never know. It’s so small and unassuming. I feel a kind of potency in something that I don’t understand yet. It appeared on somebody’s table at a flea market and Kiki picked it up. It’s a little bit worn; it’s been places. I’ve looked at it and thought about it so many times and am touched that another artist can know me well enough to gift me such a potent, personal object.

As told to Livia Russell.

Further Information

Frieze Masters and Frieze London take place concurrently from 11-15 October 2023 in The Regent’s Park, London. Studio is on view at Frieze Masters for the duration of the fair. 


Early-bird tickets to the fairs are now sold out. Limited full-price tickets have just been released. Don’t miss out, book yours now.


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Arlene Shechet is a sculptor known for her effortless combination of disparate elements, precarious and provisional arrangements, and boundary-collapsing visual paradoxes. Her work is exhibited internationally in over forty distinguished public collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre Pompidou, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A major twenty-year survey of Shechet’s work, All at Once (2015), was presented at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and a large-scale public project, Full Steam Ahead (2018), was installed in Madison Square Park in New York. In 2023 she was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This follows many other awards including the Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and the CAA Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work (2016). She is currently working on a large exhibition for Storm King Art Center, New York.