Dominique Lévy presented the first survey of early wood reliefs by the American sculptor Joel Shapiro, organized with Olivier Renaud-Clément. Joel Shapiro (2016) foregrounded work from the late 1970s, representing the trajectory of Shapiro’s career, throughout which the artist has continually pursued ideas of color and mass, culminating in a recent body of room-size sculptural installations.
Shapiro’s early work, including the wood reliefs, was in part a response to Minimalism’s “specific objects,” wherein priorities are color, texture, weight, shape, and the dynamic relationship between object and space. Shapiro’s reliefs, like his iconic bronzes and plaster floor sculptures, question Minimalism’s insistence on non-referentiality, introducing again into the art object ambiguous states of psychological and effectual intensity. In the reliefs, traces of the artist’s hand interrupt the neutral geometric vocabulary of Minimalism. Shapiro makes sculptures of simple shapes and angular cutouts in stratified layers of distinct wood elements. This mode of fabrication, coupled with unconcealed saw marks, renders Shapiro’s process visible and rewards close viewing.
Shapiro created a new site-specific installation for the exhibition that occupied the second floor of Dominique Lévy gallery. He painted wood elements with hyper-saturated casein, then suspended them using cordage, connecting them to the gallery floors and ceiling. The composition appeared imbued with motion: he pulled the string taut, creating a sense of “torque and twist… So it feels like it’s going to rip away.” Shapiro has spoken of these installations as being “expansive” and “joyful” in their refusal to be “limited by architecture and by the ground and the wall and right angles.” He made decisions about the configuration of the wooden elements intuitively and spontaneously as he installed the work; thus, it presented an intense engagement with the gallery space, implicating both architecture and the viewer’s bodies.