new site-specific work

Legendary sculptor Joel Shapiro takes on the ultimate foe in new Rice Gallery installation

Legendary sculptor Joel Shapiro takes on the ultimate foe in new Rice Gallery installation

Gravity is the ultimate friend and enemy to the sculptor... and since the launch of his career in the late '60s, Joel Shapiro experienced plenty of the sublime beauty and mean-spirited wrath provided by this basic universal phenomenon.

But who says you can't take a stand?

For his installation at the Rice Gallery, which opens Thursday night, Shapiro is taking Earth's gravitational pull head-on — suspending his trademark rectangular masses in mid-air whether the laws of natural physics like it or not.

 "I wanted to get away from gravity," Shapiro said. "Once I did, it was very liberating for me."

 Last week, the celebrated sculptor toured a small group of Houston reporters around his hanging multi-colored wooden planks and boxes. Industrial-strength nylon twine, ranging in color from gray to black, held the pieces in place.

"You know, it's surprisingly hard to make a nice box," Shapiro laughed, pointing to a floating coffin-sized mass of spruce as he weaved through his collection of large floating shapes. The tour group looked like it had been inserted into a three-dimensional Russian Constructivist painting.

Shapiro said he and his studio two assistants were slightly concerned about how the installation would hold up during a possibly opening night. So far, he joked, there have been no art accidents since he started presenting these hanging works in the early 2000s.

The artist's sculptural output has become increasing less figurative in recent decades, shedding many of the abstracted humanoid forms that defined much of his work throughout the 1970s and '80s. With his new large-scale installations, he hopes to "take his art off the floor" and allow each element to interact with minimal architectural constraint.  

"I wanted to get away from gravity," he said. "Once I did, it was very liberating for me."

The new installation opens with a free public reception Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Rice University Art Gallery, featuring remarks by Joel Shapiro at 6 p.m. as well as complimentary beer from Saint Arnold Brewing Company. The work will be on view through March 18.
News_Joel Shapiro_New Installation
"At first you just stick stuff up and accept it," he laughed, saying that much of the real placement work can only happen as he moves around the pieces onsite. Photo by Tyler Rudick
News_Joel Shapiro_New Installation
Shapiro new Rice Gallery installation opens Thursday, Feb. 2 Photo by Tyler Rudick
News_Joel Shapiro_New Installation
The sculptor begins most of his newest installations with a model of the intended space. Photo by Tyler Rudick
News_Joel Shapiro_New Installation
News_Joel Shapiro_New Installation
News_Joel Shapiro_New Installation