Lot 14
  • 14

Joel Shapiro

bidding is closed


  • Joel Shapiro
  • Untitled
  • bronze
  • 104 by 193 by 130cm.
  • 41 by 76 by 51 1/4 in.

Catalogue Note

Although Joel Shapiro’s early work was related to the discourses of Minimalism, he was among a group of artists – later known as the Post-Minimalists – who took the refined aesthetic and unitary repetitions of Minimalism and reconnected them with the artist and the body in a wider referential sphere. Whilst Minimalist artists eschewed self-expression, deliberately distancing themselves from the subjective and individualist tendencies of Abstract Expressionism, Shapiro’s work was intended to communicate something of the artist’s emotional state. As Shapiro observed in the 1980s: ‘the fact that the work was referential in itself differentiated it because I do think that one intention of minimalism is to be non-referential and only to refer to architecture as space. I was more interested in the mind, I think, or the psychological aspects’ (Joel Shapiro in an interview with Lewis Kachur, 15th July – 14th December 1988 at the artist's home/studio in Westport, New York, for the Archives of American Art).

This interest in the psychological developed over the following decades into a body of work that both retains an abstract and scaled-down aesthetic and achieves a suggestive, often anthropomorphised figuration. As Shapiro explained: ‘I am interested in those moments when it appears that a figure is a figure, and other moments when it looks like a bunch of wood stuck together – moments when it simultaneously configures and disfigures’ (Joel Shapiro, ‘Commentaries’, in Joel Shapiro (exhibition catalogue), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982, p. 101).

Created in 2013, Untitled exemplifies Shapiro’s virtuosity in this respect. The rectangular bronze pieces at first sight appear to be arbitrarily connected; on closer inspection the deliberateness of their construction becomes apparent. This is in part the result of Shapiro’s working process; he usually creates a small wooden model, adjusting the separate elements through trial and error to achieve the decisive form. These scale models are worked up into larger wooden forms that are then cast in bronze or aluminium. The dynamism inherent in this methodology is retained when the works are cast in metal, as is the rough grain of the wood, lending the works an animation that accounts for much of their expressivity. Although suggestive of a reclining figure, Untitled evades such precisions; the work is predicated by an inherent instability, a sense of flux, shifting under the eye into ever-changing patterns and arrangements and constantly eliding the gap between configuration and disfiguration.