In his abstracted sculptures which reference the human form, American artist Joel Shapiro creates dynamic and geometric representations of motion.Read More
Joel Shapiro was born in 1941 in Sunnyside, Queens, USA. In 1964, he earned a bachelor's degree from New York University (NYU) with the intent to become a physician. From 1965—67 he served in the Peace Corps in southern India. In addition to teaching sustainable agricultural methods, he undertook a photo survey of traditional handicraft which allowed him to travel.
The artist's experience in Andhra Pradesh was a catalyst for him to pursue an art practice, noting that 'the possibility of actually becoming an artist became very real to [him].' The two years he spent outside of the US exposed him to the realities of a world outside his own.
Shapiro was greatly inspired by the art that he saw during this time, finding it very much grounded in reality. To him, art in India penetrated everyday experience; it spoke about a range of human emotions, both positive and negative. Shapiro's work following his experience in India strived to develop a method to reflect psychological states, while also referencing Indian sculpture as a model.
Upon returning to the US, Shapiro re-enrolled in NYU to pursue graduate studies in art. At school, he studied under American art critic and historian Irving Sandler, while his early artistic practice was informed by Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Carl Andre, and Donald Judd. Shapiro received his MA in 1969.
Shapiro's early practice often used wood as material and referenced human activity. He was interested in exploring emotional states and desires through small-scale works. His first solo exhibition was in 1970 at Paula Cooper Gallery; in it, he exhibited a series of shelves arranged in a line, commenting primarily about essence, material, and structure. At this time, Shapiro was also making fingerprint drawings and had constructed miniature versions of homes, bridges, and coffins.
In 1980, Shapiro shifted to make large-scale, human-like forms. He joined together several four-by-four wooden posts to a thicker slab, creating an almost life-sized geometric model. The figures he began to create evoked movement, despite being a static and fixed. His first untitled human figure was reminiscent of the ballerinas painted by Edgar Degas as it leaned forward while delicately balancing on one leg.
Often untitled, Shapiro's angular sculptures utilise both bronze and wood. Shapiro also experiments with colour by imbuing his work with vibrant tones to draw out certain energies and further animate his pieces. Shapiro engages with the viewer's perception and relationship with space as each viewpoint elicits a different interpretation of the dynamics, motions, and form of the sculpture.
Joel Shapiro has exhibited internationally across major Asian, European, and North American institutions and spaces. He has executed a number of commissions in public spaces, including his work Loss and Regeneration (1993) at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. His work has been collected by several institutions including the Tate, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; and the Ho-Am Art Museum, Yongin, South Korea.
Arianna Mercado | Ocula | 2021