Beginning October 28, 2016, Dominique Lévy will present Joel Shapiro, the first survey exhibition of early wood wall reliefs by renowned American sculptor Joel Shapiro. Created between 1978 and 1980, these colorful small-scale works will be complemented by a major new site-specific installation work by the artist. The exhibition aims to illuminate the trajectory of Shapiro’s career, revealing a decades-long exploration of color and mass that has culminated in his recent body of room-size sculptural installations.
Organized by Olivier Renaud-Clément, Joel Shapiro will be on view through January 7, 2017. Dominique Lévy will publish a monograph in conjunction with the exhibition featuring texts by David Raskin and Phyllida Barlow and a poem by Peter Cole, as well as complete documentation of Shapiro’s early wood wall wall reliefs.
Since 2002, Joel Shapiro has worked with the idea of form collapsing in large-scale installations, which he describes as “the projection of thought into space without the constraint of architecture … I can get the work off the floor and be more playful in the air.” For his exhibition at Dominique Lévy, Shapiro will create a new site-specific installation in this series, filling the entire second floor of the gallery’s space with painted rough wood elements suspended in air by means of fishing line connected to the floor and ceiling. To create such works, Shapiro cuts the wood and paints it with hyper-saturated dry pigment in casein emulsion. The composition formed in space is so rigid as to appear pregnant with imminent motion: the string is pulled taut to create a sense of “torque and twist… so it feels like it’s going to rip away.” Shapiro has spoken of these installations as being “expansive” and “joyful” in their refusal to be “limited by architecture and by the ground and the wall and right angles.” Decisions regarding the configuration of the wooden elements and their coloration are made intuitively and spontaneously as Shapiro installs the work. Thus, each installation presents an intense engagement with space, implicating both the existing architecture and viewers’ bodies in the sculpture. Shapiro invites visitors to walk through the work, to confront and be confronted by it: “It reconfigures, which is some essential aspect of sculpture, it unfolds in time and space.”
Shapiro’s early work, including the intimately scaled and delicately colored wood wall reliefs on view at Dominique Lévy, emerged in part as a response to Minimalism’s “specific objects,” which prioritized color, texture, weight, shape, and the dynamic relationship between object and space. However, Shapiro’s wall reliefs—like his more well-known bronze and plaster floor sculptures, also on view in the exhibition—challenge Minimalism’s insistence on the non-referential, reintroducing ambiguous states of psychological intensity and hinting at non-linear narratives. The referential quality of his work is never explicit; the sculptures appear simultaneously abstract and figurative. Of this, Shapiro has said, “My problem was to describe an emotional state, my own longing or desire … The work is about my experience, and if you care to participate, to look, then you bring your own history to the situation.”
In the wall reliefs of the 1970s and 80s, traces of the artist’s hand interrupt the neutral geometric vocabulary of Minimalism. These sculptures are made of simple shapes and angular cutouts, built up in stratified layers of distinct wood elements. This mode of fabrication, recorded in unconcealed saw marks, makes Shapiro’s process visible and rewards a close viewing. Shapiro often coated these reliefs in a light, uniform coat of color, allowing the underlying wood to remain partially visible. In painting the works a single color, the artist bound the forms together under a cohesive rubric, creating volumetrically dense structures. For Shapiro, painting his sculptures presents several opportunities: color affects our perception of structure; while monochromatic works are legible as compact, self- contained forms, multi-colored works appear as complex dimensional stratifications. Color also introduces an emotional component that, according to the artist, has an “intrinsic metaphorical quality. It is not only perceptual, but can have cultural connotations as well.”
About the Artist
Born in New York City in 1941, Joel Shapiro has explored the possibilities of sculptural form throughout his forty-five year career. Since his first solo exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery in 1970, his work has been the subject of numerous solo and retrospective exhibitions at institutions including the Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1980; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1985; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (jointly with the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City), 1995-96; the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001; and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2011. Shapiro’s work can be found in numerous public collections in the United States and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Tate Gallery, London; IVAM Centre Julio González, Valencia; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
In 1993 he installed a permanent work, Loss and Regeneration, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Other prominent commissions and works in public space include Conjunction, for the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies for the United States Embassy in Ottawa, Canada; For Jennifer, commissioned by the Denver Art Museum; and Now, commissioned by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies and installed in 2013 at the new U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China.
Shapiro was elected to the Swedish Royal Academy of Art in 1994 and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998. The French Minister of Culture awarded Shapiro the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des AERts et des Lettres in 2005, and in 2013 he was honored with the National Art Award for Outstanding Achievement by Americans for the Arts. In April 2015 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture by the International Sculpture Center.
In 2014 Shapiro exhibited a new sculptural installation at Paula Cooper Gallery, recent work on paper at Pace Gallery, and sculpture from the 1970s at Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York. In the spring of 2014, Shapiro exhibited sculpture in wood, bronze, and plaster at Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, which subsequently travelled to Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, in January 2015.
In May 2016 Shapiro exhibited a new sculptural installation at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.
Joel Shapiro lives and works in New York City.