Untitled

Untitled, 1987
Joel Shapiro (b. 1941)

Joel Shapiro is a New York–based sculptor whose work has been influenced by Minimalist artists, received graduate and undergraduate degrees at New York University and began his artistic career as a painter before turning to sculpture. In his early work, Shapiro focused on sculptures that evoked human presence (or absence) through the forms of everyday objects such as chairs, ladders, houses, or bridges, installed in large, open gallery spaces.

These objects were imbued with an activeness and alertness that allows the viewer to feel as if the objects are in use: it might seem that a chair is balancing on its back legs or a table is about to tip on its side, as if an invisible force were moving the objects around. In his later work, Shapiro began to focus on large-scale, outdoor sculpture, abstract in form but with figurative associations. Many of his pieces distort their surrounding spaces, leaving viewers to question the object’s stability: if they step too close, would the force holding it in place collapse and the piece come crashing down?

In the vein of many Minimalist artists, Shapiro plays with space but also with weight. His works contrast heaviness and lightness to provoke both a sense of instability and impossibility, and his later works appear unburdened by gravity altogether. Shapiro’s Untitled (1988) is one of these works that seem almost weightless. The almost trapezoidal block at the top of the sculpture sits lightly on thin strands that hold the piece at an almost impossible angle that shifts as the viewer moves around the piece. A single leg hovers and angles towards the ground, suggesting that it is propelling the piece forward on its spindly legs, one step at a time. There is possibility in its frozen activeness that compels the viewer to step out of its way, as if at any given moment it will come to life.

Joel Shapiro (b. 1941)
Untitled, 1987
Bronze
Gift of the John Berggruen Gallery
1996.163.2a–e

Listen to Emma Acker, Assistant Curator of American Art, provide her perspective on Joel Shapiro’s Untitled.

 
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