Although linked to the abstract and post-Minimalist sculptors of the 1970s, Joel Shapiro did not reject anthropomorphism and, while respecting the formal rigor of “primary structures”, he considered them too...
Although linked to the abstract and post-Minimalist sculptors of the 1970s, Joel Shapiro did not reject anthropomorphism and, while respecting the formal rigor of “primary structures”, he considered them too idealistic, pure, and reductionist, the products of a Platonic aesthetic that had its disciples on the East Coast. In forms that are on a reduced scale, compared to those of the Minimalists, his work integrated psychological, dramatic, and personal aspects. In an attentive dialogue with the history of sculpture—from the polychromy that preceded Winkelmann’s theory of neoclassicism to the assemblages of Pablo Picasso, Julio González, David Smith, Anthony Caro, and Mark di Suvero—Giacometti ultimately wins out over Brancusi.
While Shapiro rarely suspended his sculptures, there was always a tendency for his materials to fight gravity and rear away from the ground, merely grazing it rather than resting on it. In this way, he extends the modern emancipation of the sculptural mass from its pedestal, from the niche, from heaviness, but also from the orthogonality of the architectural and museum space in which artworks are exhibited. The simple fact of hanging sculptures by a metal wire would be enough to separate them from the ground, to make them independent of the building. To achieve this, Shapiro assembled pieces of polychrome wood, a material that is light and easy to work, and whose color helps hide it and make it more abstract, like a Rietveld chair.
The sculptural mass, laid out along a diagonal axis, is constantly trying to find its point of equilibrium. This structural disequilibrium means that Shapiro can produce sculpture that is both stable and precarious, like the movements of a dance: “I like to bring inanimate things alive: to take stone or wood and express life with them. There are connections between dance and sculpture, but they are not equivalent. Sculpture synthesizes the movement of the body but the form does not move; it is an indication of movement, a condensation. Sculpture is the memory of movement.” The choreography of Shapiro’s sculptures, their rotations and torsions, their clearly visible points of anchorage, are a bit like a Constructivist picture in 3D, fraught with internal tension, whose resemblance to a human body is auxiliary. Being in suspense thus becomes a psychological state.
- Riccardo Venturi From the book 'Suspension', by Matthieu Poirier, published by Olivier Malingue Ltd and Skira, Paris, 2018. Book available to purchase from the gallery for £35.
London, Olivier Malingue, Suspension – A History of Abstract Hanging Sculpture 1918–2018, 1 October - 15 December 2018, p. 73, reproduced in colour p. 182.