untitled (Hood Museum of Art) (1989–90)
Joel Shapiro, American, born 1941
21 ft. (640.08 cm)
Despite its minimalistic abstraction, the very human positioning and proportions of this untitled work evoke an undeniable figural reference. In this sculpture, Joel Shapiro reduces the body to the most basic representation of its structure, communicated through an industrial geometry of building blocks. These elements are fused together in unpredictable and expressive angles to become one unified, active being, with a lifelike twisting movement spiraling throughout the entire form.
Fabricated on a monumental scale and raised several feet off the ground, the mass of metal is poised above the passageway through the Maffei Arts Plaza, threatening to fall on top of the people passing underneath it at any moment. Understood as a figure, it plays out the relatable experience of the body falling backward as it struggles to remain balanced.
Frozen at a dynamic diagonal, midway between verticality and horizontality, this form is bursting with potential energy in its powerful implied movement, intensified by the sense of the immense mass of heavy bronze suspended at such a precarious angle. This energizes the entire open space it occupies, engaging not just the ground but also the surrounding architectural walls and passing viewers in its balancing act.
For Comparison: Joel Shapiro & Alexander Calder
Video of Joel Shapiro's untitled (Hood Museum of Art) (1989–90) in the Maffei Arts Plaza, opposite Ellsworth Kelly's Dartmouth Panels (2012). The sculpture was moved to this location to accommodate work on the Hood's expansion.