Joel Shapiro (b. 1941, New York) is an artist of international prominence. Subverting the distinctions between abstraction and representation, Shapiro reconsiders the modern figurative tradition, creating abstract geometric sculpture that elicits a sense of movement and engages viewers’ physical and psychological relationships with space. In his recent investigations of the expressive possibility of form and color in space, the artist suspends painted wooden elements from the ceiling, wall, and floor, exploring the projection of thought into space without the constraint of architecture.
He has executed more than thirty commissions and publicly-sited sculptures in major Asian, European, and North American cities and has been the subject of more than 160 solo exhibitions and retrospectives internationally. In 2011, the artist energized the monumental forty-three-foot-tall gallery at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany with fifteen vibrantly painted wooden elements. his work has recently been exhibited at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2016); Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2017); the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven (2018); and Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin (2018).
London—Pace London is pleased to announce its first exhibition of works by Joel Shapiro, on view from 19 May to 17 June 2017. Presented throughout Pace’s main gallery and an adjacent space at 6 Burlington Gardens, the exhibition will feature an installation of seven vibrant, volumetric sculptures and a selection of recent works on paper.
These seven sculptures, many of which were first exhibited at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, in May 2016, continue Shapiro’s longstanding investigation of anthropomorphic and architectonic form while challenging the viewer’s sense of balance and scale. Re-configured specifically for Pace London – some placed directly on the floor, others tethered by cordage from the walls and ceiling – many of these recent works appear weightless in space, their forms seemingly relieved of mass and gravity, a sense further emphasized by their hollow construction with 3mm plywood. The juxtaposition of suspended and freestanding volumes in a single work, as well as the introduction of more suggestive, referential forms, represents a new direction in Shapiro’s experimentation with dissociated systems that commenced around 2002, when he began to disassemble more coherent structures into a series of wood and wire works that he hung from the walls and ceiling of his studio. These earlier discrete works, which were featured in an exhibition at Pace Gallery, New York, in 2005, subsequently evolved into room-sized installations of suspended, rectilinear elements that he exhibited at Pace Gallery, New York (2010), Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2011), and Rice University Art Gallery, Houston (2012), among other institutions.
Despite the vivid colours and the open composition, the large scale of the sculptures gives them a potentially unsettling presence. Situated at different heights and angles within the main gallery, the seven sculptures confound expectations and present new configurations as one walks around and interacts with them, heightening one’s experience of space and form. In OK Green (2016)—a large, mint-coloured work—the triangular corner of the open form at first appears to point out into space, suggesting a closed volume, and then shifts, receding into the interior of the work and thrusting the outer edges and angles forward. In the catalogue to his 1982 exhibition curated by Richard Marshall at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Shapiro evokes colour as a potent force: “The idea of thinking in color always interested me. If you are a sculptor and you use color, the color has to mean something, do something to change your perception of the piece. Cobalt violet obfuscates form and blue withdraws. Cadmium red and black both add density.” The current installation, which the artist has refered to as a kind of dreamscape, continues this investigation into the dynamics of form and color and extends further his attempt to conjur in the viewer an array of psychological and perceptual associations.
The exhibition at Pace will also feature a selection of gouaches and smaller-scale sculptures in an adjacent, more intimate, space in the gallery. Alongside his sculptures, Shapiro has made works on paper throughout his career. The gouaches on display are abstract and expressionistic. For some, he made pairs of works by blotting compositions with clean paper, creating a mirror image that Shapiro then obfuscates by adding new colours or changing the orientation of the paper.
Only a few streets away from Pace London at 23 Savile Row, Verge (2003–2008)—a permanent bronze sculpture—is suspended from the building. Like the sculptures at Pace, this work appears to effortlessly float in space and defy gravity.