Come Together: Surviving Sandy

Joel Shapiro


by Anna Tome

Untitled (2013) is a poised illusion: a Beat arrangement in the romantic tradition. Structured according to the artist’s perspective where subjectivity is the narrative center, the physical actualization of its floating bronze beams is freed from reason. Or perhaps it is more like Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne because Shapiro knows that to suspend a moment in time does not necessarily halt the narrative. In the myth we still know what is going to happen, and that’s why we find pleasure in the agony of the stillness. In the moment depicted, Daphne, though still half woman, will transmogrify into a tree. Similarly, if time were to follow gravity, the bronze beams of Untitled would drop to the floor. But for now, its limbs are inverted and hesitate mid-air. The illusive stillness gives us pleasure because it references an ideal stillness to which the body aspires.

Joel Shapiro, "Untitled," 2002-07.

Joel Shapiro, “Untitled,” 2002-07. Bronze, 13′ 4″ x 27′ 9″ 1/2 x 12′ 11″. Courtesy of the artist and Pace Gallery. Photo by Brian Buckley.

Despite its play with the idealized stopping of time Untitled is not built of ideals—Shapiro seems more concerned with transferring this initial moment of pleasure into a concept of space. As you view the work longer, the mechanics of the hand become central: the eye traces Shapiro’s process of assembling beams from the ground up, all the while neglecting the room and freeing sculpture from the trappings of the wall, the floor, and the ceiling; rejecting one axis or the other. There is no horizontal and no vertical. Context does not a form make—to assume there is a room is at heart minimal: as it was for Carl Andre when he shifted sculpture onto a horizontal axis in order to use the properties of a room. Not so for Shapiro. Only by ignoring the room and the laws of gravity can Untitled exist.