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Joel Shapiro (B. 1941)
Property from the Collection of Marvin and Florence Gerstin
Joel Shapiro (B. 1941)

G.E.

Details
Joel Shapiro (B. 1941)
G.E.
bronze
64 1/2 x 69 1/2 x 49 in. (163.8 x 176.5 x 124.5 cm.)
Executed in 1986-1987. This work is number three from an edition of three.
Provenance
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1987

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Eliza Netter
Eliza Netter

Lot Essay

Throughout a career that began in the 1960s, American sculptor Joel Shapiro has defined a unique style of working in wood and bronze, creating physically energetic and emotionally powerful sculptures that remarkably succeed in bridging figurative and abstract approaches to sculptural work. His freestanding, large-scale figures (the present lot, in bronze, is a prime example) seem uncannily lifelike, though never relinquishing their figurative quality or abstract form. Some of his sculptures seem to dare or defy gravity while others, conversely, seem to succumb to it. The dynamic tension between the figurative and the abstract in Shapiro’s work is one of its defining features, giving the forms a kinetic energy and causing the elements making up the “arms” and “legs” to pull toward the center of the sculptural mass, or be on the verge of flying away from it.

G.E. is one of Shapiro’s quintessentially dynamic, complex pieces. Pitched forward, left arm extended straight outward, right leg drawn back, the figure seems about to kick a ball, or perhaps just close to tumbling before catching itself. The display is a wonderful study of poise, balance and equilibrium, exemplary of the artist’s ability to define a signature style capable of so many subtle variations. “Human mood and movement are reduced to a geometric essence that is itself caught in an unclassical, all-too-human process of fluctuation, open to the viewer’s perception and speculation,” noted one critic of Shapiro’s sculptures (R. Smith, “Joel Shapiro Looks Back, Differently,” The New York Times, March 31, 1995).

The movement inherent in Shapiro’s sculptures is a highly choreographed display. The figures seem to be dancing, falling, kicking, walking, running, or involved in other kinds of athletics. Some suggest laborers, or even physical performers, such as acrobats, clowns, or other rambunctious circus entertainers. Yet, the forms that constitute the sculptures are simple—a small number of basic shapes assembled—but deeply evocative. With surprising economy, they invite psychological explorations relating to issues of freedom, danger, mobility, inhibition, inertia, exertion and a wide range of emotions.

Shapiro is sometimes associated with the Post-Minimalist movement that developed in the later part of the 1960s and into the 1970s, a diversity of artists and strategies that was in response to Minimalism, and sought a different type of engagement with the subject matter in art. Shapiro may be seen as a link between the purer forms of Minimalism and the art of the 1980s that strives to make content an explicit part of its form and meaning. He explores subject matter and emotion, while also retaining an interest in abstraction. Shapiro has been influenced and inspired by a wide range of artists, among them 19th and early 20th century figures such as Rodin and Degas, as well as his contemporaries. The result of these influences for him has wrought a powerful and sustained exploration of sculptural methods and possibilities.

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