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Art Now: Sculpture of Joel Shapiro


An exhibition of five sculptures by the internationally acclaimed American artist Joel Shapiro opens on September 14, 2004 at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, located in the College's Center for the Arts on Route 30 in Middlebury. The Shapiro sculptures, which span the past 25 years of the artist's career and represent a range of his formal and stylistic concerns, comprise the second installation of "Art Now," a series of ongoing exhibitions of contemporary art at the Museum.

Coming to prominence in the early 1970s, Shapiro's work is noted for its deceptively understated yet powerfully suggestive arrangements of simplified, rectangular elements. Until recently he used these elementary building blocks to create figurative forms, combining wooden beams in ways that suggested stick figures. Cast in bronze, however, such works manifest far greater density and presence then pictographs or caricatures: each one seems a vital and distinctive personality inhabiting and energizing its surrounding space. Informed, if not specifically influenced at every point, by the sculptural achievements of Rodin and Degas (and to a degree of Giacometti), Shapiro has created an immensely rich and impressive body of work that revises and reinvigorates the figurative tradition in modern art. (right: Joel Shapiro, Untitled, 1982, bronze, 72 x 70 x 30 inches. Collection of Ellen Phelan. Photo © Moderna Museet, Stockholm. © 2004 Joel Shapiro/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)

Included in the exhibition are sculptures ranging from an extraordinarily delicate and unique bronze work, only 8 inches in height, to a 6-foot tall, dynamic bronze figure-the largest work in the exhibition -- which demonstrates the commanding force of the artist's figurative conceptions. Two wall-mounted abstractions are also on view: one of copper and another comprised of two elements-one cast iron and the other white bronze. The most recent sculpture on view, completed in 2003, is a bronze work comprised of two separate forms deployed in an intriguing architectural arrangement.

In the earliest work on view one can still discern the texture of the wood that the artist cast later in bronze. His sculptures, though fabricated, still retain signs of their hand-made origins-a departure from the Minimalist vocabulary Shapiro has chosen to adapt.

Shapiro grew up in New York and holds both a bachelor's and a master's degree from New York University. From 1965 to 1967 he served in India in the Peace Corps. Among the first artists to exhibit in SoHo, in lower Manhattan, where he was associated with the Paula Cooper Gallery, he is now represented by the PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York, where he has had solo exhibitions since 1993.

Major sculptural commissions and monumental works by Shapiro are on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.; Sony Plaza, New York; Kansas City Airport; the U.S. Embassy, Ottawa, Canada; and in public sites in Germany, France, and Japan.

Among the dozens of museums that have featured solo exhibitions of the artist's work are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney Museum of Art, New York (where the artist enjoyed an early retrospective exhibition in 1982); the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Shapiro has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Swedish Royal Academy of Art. As a resident of the American Academy in Rome in 1998-1999, he exhibited his bronze works throughout that notably sculptured city.

Art Now: Sculpture of Joel Shapiro will remain on view at the Middlebury College Museum of Art through Sun., Dec. 5, 2004. The exhibition at Middlebury was organized by Museum Associate Director Emmie Donadio and Museum Designer Ken Pohlman with generous assistance from the artist and PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York. In conjunction with the exhibition, Shapiro will speak about his work on Tuesday November 9, at 4: 30 p.m. in Room 314, Johnson Memorial Building, off College Street (Route 125) on the College campus.

rev. 8/30/04

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