Joel Shapiro

7 May 2016 – 21 Aug 2016

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One of the most prominent and influential sculptors of the era, Joel Shapiro has long explored geometric form through structural compositions of rectangular elements that visually and physically challenge the possibilities of balance and weight.


On view in his Nasher exhibition will be a series of recent, brightly painted, suspended forms that hover in space at different heights and angles, along with a series of recent drawings as well as key works by Shapiro from the Nasher’s permanent collection.

The work of New York-based artist Joel Shapiro is familiar to many.  The spare, geometric constructions of rectangular forms suggestive of bodies (human or otherwise) in dynamic poses--in motion, precariously poised, or stretched to their limits—have been featured in museum exhibitions and collections around the world.  The Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection is fortunate to count among its holdings six works by Shapiro spanning three decades of his distinguished career, many of these now on view in the collection gallery nearby.

The current exhibition presents a new direction in Shapiro’s work: a single, site-specific installation conceived specifically for the space of the Renzo Piano-designed galleries of the Nasher.  Although made of brightly painted wood—materials Shapiro has employed since the early 1980s—the irregular cubic volumes not only occupy the floor, they also hover in the air, tethered at different heights and angles within the gallery.  This installation of suspended volumes represents a new development in the artist’s exploration of expanded or disconnected constructions that began around 2002.  Like much of his work, these initially took the form of small sculptures of lightweight wood, sometimes with the wooden elements tenuously joined by loose, curling wire, occasionally suspended from the ceiling.  These sculptural clusters, having been freed from the need of earthbound mounts or supports, offered complex arrangements of forms in space that often looked as if they were collapsing or disintegrating, giving abstract voice to the unsettling tensions of the post-9/11 era.  Eventually, these independent sculptures developed into room-sized installations of painted wooden planks of different widths, lengths and colors, suspended by strings at various angles and orientations in space, creating a complex spatial composition that changed as the viewer moved around and through it.

At the Nasher, the flat planks of previous installations have become multifaceted, volumetric forms.  The elements are not made of simple rectangles but of asymmetrical geometric shapes.  Only a few forms occupy the gallery: two seem to sit or recline on the floor, while others are suspended in mid-air or near the ceiling.  Despite the relatively open installation, the generous size of the elements gives them a palpable and potentially unsettling presence.  Many of them are larger than we are, making them feel looming or imposing, and us, diminutive.  The installation generates a curious, other-worldly, constructivist environment.

The emotional impact of the experience should not be discounted.  Shapiro has talked about the installation as a kind of dreamscape, or psychological space.  This makes sense in light of the work that the artist has been making on paper recently, several of which have been included at the Nasher and exhibited in spaces adjacent to the installation.  Although he has made drawings in various media throughout his career, the recent ink and gouache works are particularly abstract and atmospheric, loose skeins of color overlapping with inky clouds of black.  Shapiro has taken to making pairs or groups of related “drawings” by blotting the compositions with clean sheets of paper, creating a mirror image that he then shifts by adding new colors or changing its orientation.  What results are abstract compositions suggesting complex spatial qualities.  They are also, at turns, mysterious and moody or whimsical and playful.  Any mirrored pair is bound to recall Rorschach inkblots.  Although powerfully psychological, Shapiro’s works on paper are not symmetrical, nor identically mirrored: they are individual and unique, yet related, as a mother is to her son, or a brother to his sister.

Joel Shapiro is organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center and supported by Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger.  Additional support is provided by Cindy and Howard Rachofsky.

Aston Martin of Dallas is the Official Car of the Nasher Sculpture Center.

Exhibiting artists

Joel Shapiro


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