Hudson, New York
Stephen Shaheen’s imaginative exhibition “Let’s Eat Columns” (on view through January 30, 2022) features works that blend a material approach to stone with metaphysical ruminations. Curator Jesse Aran Greenberg of JAG Projects has installed smaller, more experimental works in the indoor galleries and situated larger works outdoors, where some of Shaheen’s marble “bones” reach a length of five feet—a tour de force of carving. It is no small accomplishment to work stone in such long and slender measures.
Shaheen consciously chooses stones with a certain “vascularity.” Hide (Bone 33), a mottled pink and white Persian onyx bone almost five feet long, stretches into the landscape. One end has the familiar rounded node of a bone; the other appears almost hand-like, with an open semicircle between thumb and fingers. It is the receptor that allows a hinged joint.
Representing the building blocks of the human skeleton, Shaheen’s “bones” offer a reminder of our fragility and resilience, our temporary residence on this earth. There is a sense of intimacy in the installation. We are keenly aware that we are looking at facsimiles of what makes up the core of our bodies. The multiple veins in the Turkish marble of The Place From Which All Roads Lead (Bone 34) bring to mind the interconnectedness of all things.
Shaheen is a connoisseur of stone, and he chooses marbles that can withstand the stress of his carved forms. It is interesting to see sculptures made of this prized material installed in an approachable setting. The luminous Lands Within (Bone 32), for instance, greets visitors on the steps of Hudson House. Bone (8), of grey and white West Rutland marble, leans against the side of the 19th-century building, like a casual observer. Inside, smaller bones rest on pedestals and architectural elements. 344 Norwood, one of Shaheen’s combinations of stone and photography, refers to fading memories and the enduring quality of stone.
Some years ago, Shaheen was walking in Rome with a friend, discussing the relationship between bone and marble, which are both composed of calcium carbonate. Stone carvers inevitably ingest bits of marble dust, which the body is able to assimilate. Shaheen’s friend immediately went over to the Pantheon, extricated a marble crumb from an enormous column base, and ate it. Hence the exhibition title, “Let’s Eat Columns.” Shaheen reflects, “I’ve often thought about not only the literal assimilation of what’s come before us, but how we consume history and culture in general and integrate it into our own experiences and expressions…whether we want to or not.”
An accomplished international artist, Shaheen has worked in Siena and Carrara, Italy. Bone, nine feet long, is a stunning site-specific work at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, Ireland. Memoria Project, a 100-ton community-created 9/11 memorial, is located in Veterans Memorial Park in Highlands, New Jersey. The human body is a recurrent theme in his work, albeit in different evocations. Shaheen is essentially an experimenter who is willing to push marble to the limit, inventing new ways to use a familiar, classic material in a non-traditional and unique contemporary mode.