Joel Shapiro's large-scale figurative sculptures stand at the crossroads of Minimalism and Expressionism. While the forms in his sculptures are regular and geometric, the figures themselves are in perpetual motion:
"Walking, running, dancing, falling, tripping, tumbling are some of the basic actions Shapiro explores. Invariably, however, there is more than one action in the same construction, sometimes within the same point of view. A figure is on its feet, firmly on the ground, but it may also be standing on its head, its feet spread in the air. The same figure may pull back or hurl itself forward. Sometimes the same movement or gesture evokes different, even conflicting, responses (Brenson, p. 10).
The figure has appeared consistently in Shapiro's work, gradually growing in scale from his series of small running men in the mid-late 1970s to the life-size figures of 1980-81 to the most recent larger-than-life figures such as Untitled. Although monumental in scale, these works convey a profound sense of humanism. They extol "the individual, but it is an individual that is unsettled and in perpetual transition. It is not a force of domination. It is a force of empathy" (Brenson, p. 12).