Shapiro, Joel

Joel Shapiro was born in New York City, and received B.A. and M.A. degrees from New York University. The son of scientists (his father was an internist and his mother a microbiologist) who were also interested in art, Shapiro took art classes as a child, considering it “fun,” but not a potential career. He attended college, graduating with a liberal arts degree, with the intention of becoming a physician. However, after graduation he spent two years in the Peace Corps in India, and it was there that he decided to become an artist. Returning to New York, Shapiro rented a studio and registered for graduate work at New York University. He soon won critical acclaim for his small-scale works that had an implied human presence, such as sculptures of houses and chairs. Since the mid-1970s, the human figure has become the most significant theme in Shapiro’s sculpture.

More recently, Shapiro has begun to make human-size sculptures. He does not add anything extraneous to the basic figure, making sculptures that are devoid of “individuating” detail, sexual identity, narrative or identifying context. Through the human figure, Shapiro investigates the very nature of abstraction. Joel Shapiro has achieved a reputation as a significant modernist sculptor. He has been called a Post-Minimalist because his work provides a link between the Minimal art of the 1960s and the “content-laden” art of the late ’70s and ’80s.

Shapiro was commissioned to do projects for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and has participated in numerous exhibitions including the Whitney Biennials.