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.
The exhibition presented 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 occupied the floor, but also hovered in the air, tethered at different heights and angles within the gallery. This installation of suspended volumes represented a new development in the artist’s exploration of expanded or disconnected constructions that began around 2002. Like much of his work, these took the form of small sculptures of lightweight wood, sometimes with wooden elements tenuously joined by loose, curling wire, occasionally suspended from the ceiling. These sculptural clusters, 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 became multifaceted, volumetric forms. The elements were not made of simple rectangles but of asymmetrical geometric shapes. Only a few forms occupied the gallery: two seemed to sit or recline on the floor, while others were suspended in mid-air or near the ceiling. Despite the relatively open installation, the generous size of the elements gave them a palpable and potentially unsettling presence. Many of them were larger than life, making them feel looming or imposing, making us feel diminutive. The installation generated a curious, other-worldly, constructivist environment.
The emotional impact of the experience should not be discounted. Shapiro talked about the installation as a kind of dreamscape, or psychological space. This made sense in light of the artist's works on paper, several of which were included at the Nasher and exhibited in spaces adjacent to the installation. Although he has made drawings in various media throughout his career, the ink and gouache works were particularly abstract and atmospheric, loose skeins of color overlapping with inky clouds of black. Shapiro took to making pairs or groups of related “drawings” by blotting the compositions with clean sheets of paper, creating a mirror image that he then shifted by changing its orientation or adding new colors. The results were abstract compositions suggesting complex spatial qualities. They were also, at turns, mysterious and moody or whimsical and playful. The mirrored pairs were bound to recall Rorschach inkblots. Although powerfully psychological, Shapiro’s works on paper were not symmetrical, nor identically mirrored: they were individual and unique, yet related, as a mother is to her son, or a brother to his sister.
Joel Shapiro was organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center and supported by Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger. Additional support was provided by Cindy and Howard Rachofsky.
Aston Martin of Dallas is the Official Car of the Nasher Sculpture Center.