Joel Shapiro

Pace, London, UK

New Yorker Joel Shapiro’s first show at Pace London comprises seven vibrantly painted angular wood sculptures and some recent gouaches on paper. Placed directly on the floor or suspended by cords from the walls and ceiling, the sculptures’ severe angles are offset by their bright colouring, which lends a playful feel. Shapiro works like a geometrist run wild, crafting gaze-resistant warped prisms that cannot be fully perceived from any single angle. They reveal their secrets only by forcing the viewer to move around their irregular faces and overlapping vertices.

Careful observation is rewarded. The light conditions (from overhead or streaming through the gallery’s long window) affect the viewer’s already partial perspective by covering the surfaces in uneven shadows. This alters them such that the paint looks matte or patchy depending on the time of day or angle of vision, deepening the declivities in Really Blue (after all) and elongating the curves on Flush (both 2016).

shapiro_inst_2017_v06.jpg

Joel Shapiro, 2017, installation view, PACE, London. Courtesy: Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and PACE Gallery, London; photograph: Brian Griffiths

It would be a mistake, however, to treat them as ‘picture puzzles’ to be reconstructed in your mind’s eye. They have no ‘original’ regular form, as if they were distortions of mathematical constructions that need to be corrected after the fact. This is also true of the gouaches, which originate as pairs made by blotting compositions on clean paper. This creates a mirror image that Shapiro then complicates by adding new colours or changing the orientation of the paper. The sculptures’ mangled geometries and the shifting conditions of visibility make them what they are, so you can never recover your first glance like a photograph or unsee the inconsistencies.

Shapiro counters the sculptures’ illusionism by foregrounding their material fabrication. Three-millimetre plywood is used to make hollow forms, which makes it possible to hang Yellow Then, Orange, and Flush (all 2016) from the ceiling. From a distance, these look like solid constructions; up close, they seem to melt into air, appearing almost weightless. They resemble constructivist architecture models reimagined as maniacal interior design: a twisted dinner table in OK Green (2016) or an elevated chair in Untitled (2017). Mundane objects become monuments, only to be undermined by the visibility of the screws and glue that holding them together, while scuff-marks, fingerprints and a painted-over trade sticker  reveal processes of construction and transportation.

shapiro_inst_2017_v05.jpg

Joel Shapiro, 2017, installation view, PACE, London. Courtesy: Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and PACE Gallery, London; photograph: Brian Griffiths

Really Blue (after all) and Yellow May (2016) are the most complex and peculiar objects in the exhibition, making the deformed cuboids of the other pieces look comparatively straightforward. Really Blue (after all) resembles a thick, contorted rocking horse whose body parts have been haphazardly jammed together. A cuboid head sits on a gradually narrowing triangular prism neck and its awkward, two-part polygon body tilts into the air. Depending on your angle, Yellow May could be a fluorescent iceberg with one threatening triangular peak, a sorrowful cardboard box bending in the wind or, when the shadow falls on its overhanging surface, a deceptively solid pyramid. They stand at a diagonal from each other, either side of a dividing wall that partitions the space, the awkward innocence of the former intensifying the danger suggested by the latter.

Shapiro realizes his interest in anthropomorphic and architectonic form through a set of contradictions: he subverts the grandeur of monumental sculpture by minimizing its scale, exchanging solidity with rickety hardware store materials and tempering its formal austerity with bright colours. Though there is an element of public sculpture in Shapiro’s work – Verge (2003–08), a commission for the nearby 23 Savile Row, comprises four bronze cuboids that seem to hover above the street – for the most part its energies are turned inwards, creating private experiences, seemingly untroubled by the political ambitions that often breathe life into such projects.

Main image: Joel Shapiro, 2017, installation view, PACE, London. Courtesy: Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, and PACE, London; photograph: Brian Griffiths

 

Max L. Feldman is a writer based in London, UK, and Vienna, Austria. He lectures in Philosophy at The University of Roehampton, London.

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018