Joel Shapiro (B. 1941)
Property from the Virginia Commonwealth University Foundation Collection
Joel Shapiro (B. 1941)


Joel Shapiro (B. 1941)
painted cast aluminum
144 x 99 x 72 in. (365.8 x 251.5 x 182.9 cm)
Executed in 2000-2001. This work is number three from an edition of four plus one artist's proof.
Pace Gallery, New York
Danese Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2001
G. Gouveia, "Art Scene: sculptures kick up a dynamic display," The Journal News, May 2001, p. 210 (another example illustrated).
A. Worth, "Art Jocks," The New Yorker, July 2001, pp. 81-82 (another example illustrated).
R. Smith, "Creativity Overhead, Underfoot and Even in the Air," The New York Times, July 2001, p. E25 (another example illustrated).
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Joel Shapiro on the Roof, May-November 2001 (another example exhibited and illustrated on cover).
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Portraits by Andy Warhol and Chuck Close, June 2012 (another example exhibited).
Post lot text
Another example of this edition is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sale room notice
Please note cast one of this edition is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Brought to you by

Han-I Wang
Han-I Wang

Lot Essay

Depending upon the viewer's movement, Shapiro's sculpture shifts from the abstract to the figurative, from hyperkinetic flight to collapse, from purely formal to deeply emotional--like a kaleidoscope whose pieces promise, but finally refuse, to settle into resolution.
-K. Kertess, "Dancing with Gravity," in Joel Shapiro New Wood and Bronze Sculpture, New York, 1998, p. 6.

Joel Shapiro’s Untitled is one of the artist’s iconic sculptural forms in which he skillfully blends the boundaries of abstraction and figuration. Balancing on one element, a series of interconnected limbs mimic the graceful movement of a dancer caught in mid-movement. Executed in cast aluminum which Shapiro then cloaks in fiery red oil paint, the physical properties of the medium are in direct opposition to the nature of composition as Untitled epitomizes both strength and fragility in a single work. In 2001 another example from this edition was selected for the artist’s retrospective staged on the rooftop of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other examples of his work are contained in a number of other major museum collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and Tate Modern in London.
Untitled belongs to Shapiro’s mature body of work which investigates the dramatic tension between the figurative and the abstract. He first began investigating forms such as the present lot in 1980 when he joined together lengths of wooden four-by-fours (which made up elements resembling the “head”, “legs,” and “arms”) to slightly larger pieces of wood with which he comprised the “body.” These figures were often balanced precariously on one leg, adding to the tension inherent within the rest of the composition. Works such as Untitled clearly evoke associations with the human body (one of the oldest of subject matters in art history), yet their sparse manifestation also has strong parallels with the abstract and Minimalist work of his contemporaries at the time.
Although resolutely a contemporary artist, more traditional sculptures such as Henri Matisse and Alberto Giacometti exert a major influence on Shapiro’s work. From Giacometti’s Surrealist sculptures, such as the Palace at 4 a.m., 1932 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Shapiro is said to have learnt how to grant his work a sense of psychological resonance and intimacy. Shapiro also made frequent use of Giacometti’s postwar practice of isolating the figure in large swathes of surrounding space. Matisse’s influence is evident in Shapiro’s use of sinuous lines in his running-man sculptures, a technique derived from such Matisse works as La Serpentine, 1909 (Museum of Modern Art, New York).
In the 1960s Joel Shapiro began his career under the influence of process art, and the work of Eva Hessa in particular. But beginning in 1972 he shifted his focus and began a lifelong investigation into modernist figuration. Shapiro’s first sculpture was a reimagining of a running figure, a motif he continues to explore today. The infinite possibilities offered up by this subject is exploited by Shapiro as he extracts the almost limitless variety of this rudimentary figure by reusing and altering previous compositions, combining running and falling positions and using twisting, sinuous forms that seem to change form as the viewer moves around them.
Despite their industrial appearance, Shapiro’s work is still very much the artist’s creation. Eschewing the use of drawn studies, he achieves his distinctive compositions by first creating a small model by joining together small blocks of wood using a hot glue gun. The precise arrangement is then refined using small readjustments of these block until Shapiro is happy with the overall composition. The model is then enlarged to full-scale using large pieces of sawn wood joined together. Next, the wood lengths are sand-cast in metal so that traces of the saw marks on the wood are maintained, before (as in the case of Untitled) they are painted with primer and a final coating of vivid red oil paint.
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. In works such as Untitled he explores subject matter and emotion, while also retaining an interest in abstraction. The result is a series of evocative works which has wrought a powerful and sustained exploration of sculptural methods and possibilities.

More from FIRST OPEN | Post-War and Contemporary Art

View All
View All