Porcelain, No Simple Matter

24 May 2016 — 2 Apr 2017 at The Frick Collection in New York, United States

12 DECEMBER 2016
Arlene Shechet, Dancing Girl with Two Right Feet (detail), 2012. Courtesy of The Frick
Arlene Shechet, Dancing Girl with Two Right Feet (detail), 2012. Courtesy of The Frick

The Frick will present a year-long exhibition exploring the complex history of making, collecting, and displaying porcelain. Included are about 100 pieces produced by the renowned Royal Meissen manufactory, which led the ceramic industry in Europe, both scientifically and artistically, during the early to mid-eighteenth century. Most of the works date from 1720 to 1745 and were selected by New York−based sculptor Arlene Shechet from the promised gift of Henry H. Arnhold. Sixteen works in the exhibition are Shechet’s own sculptures—exuberant porcelain she made during a series of residencies at the Meissen manufactory in 2012 and 2013. Designed by Shechet, the exhibition avoids the typical chronological or thematic order of most porcelain installations in favor of a personal and imaginative approach that creates an intriguing dialogue between the historical and the contemporary, from then to now. With nature as the dominant theme, the exhibition will be presented in the Frick’s Portico Gallery, which overlooks the museum’s historic Fifth Avenue Garden. Porcelain, No Simple Matter: Arlene Shechet and the Arnhold Collection is organized by Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts, The Frick Collection. Major support for the exhibition is generously provided by Chuck and Deborah Royce, Melinda and Paul Sullivan, Margot and Jerry Bogert, and Monika McLennan. A fully illustrated booklet featuring installation views and a conversation with Arnhold, Shechet, and Vignon will be available in July.

Long admired for their masterfully modeled shapes and gemlike glazes, Meissen porcelain offers a window into the early years of manufacturing porcelain in the West and celebrates a fascinating chapter in the history of the ceramic medium. Although the formula for manufacturing true porcelain had been developed in China by the sixth century, it remained a consuming mystery in the West until its discovery in 1708 under the patronage of Augustus I (1670–1733), elector of Saxony and king of Poland. In 1710, the king established a royal manufactory outside of Dresden in the town of Meissen, and the porcelain created there has been known by that name ever since. Early Meissen porcelain was at the forefront of the European ceramic industry until the ascendency of the Royal Sèvres Manufactory in France in the 1750s.

The Arnhold Collection, one of the greatest private holdings of Meissen porcelain assembled in the twentieth century, was formed in Dresden between 1926 and 1935 by Lisa (1890–1972) and Heinrich Arnhold (1885–1935), with a focus on tablewares and vases and objects of royal or noteworthy provenance. The Arnhold collection came to America with Lisa Arnhold and her family at the start of World War II. Lisa and Heinrich’s son, Henry, has since extended the size and scope of the collection, sometimes following his parents’ tastes and preferences, sometimes departing from tradition with the acquisition of Meissen with underglaze blue decoration, figures and groups, and mounted objects.

In 2011, Arnhold promised a gift of 131 objects from the collection to the museum. Meissen porcelain is well known to specialists, but drew appreciation from a much wider public through its presentation at the Frick in two acclaimed exhibitions: White Gold: Highlights from the Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain (2011) and The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710–50 (2008).

Arlene Shechet is a New York–based sculptor, whose diverse body of work draws on balance, breath, humor, and the creative potential of failure. Corporeal yet transcendent, her work explores the friction when categories start to slip, giving way to subliminal play. A major survey of her work, All at Once, was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston in 2015, with an accompanying catalogue. Meissen Recast, also published in 2015, is based on Shechet’s solo exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence. This project focused on the works that the artist made in 2012–13 at the Meissen porcelain factory in Germany, as well as of her installation of RISD’s porcelain collection. Shechet is the subject of much critical acclaim including a 2012 Art in America cover story, is featured in the season 7 of PBS’s Art 21, as well as season 4 of The Met Artist Project. Shechet is the recipient of many awards, including a John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship Award in 2004, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant in 2010, and an American Arts and Letters Award in 2011. She is the 2016 recipient of the Caa Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work. Her work is included in many renowned public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the Brooklyn Museum, and the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.