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#35 Magical Thinking with Sculptor Joel Shapiro


Guest Joel Shapiro. Photo credit: Colin Miller

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#35 Magical Thinking with Sculptor Joel Shapiro

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

The American artist Joel Shapiro has been pioneering new forms in sculpture for more than five decades. He joins our host Charlotte Burns today to talk about his art and his influences; his hopes and motivations; and about what, for him, defines great art.

“I’m not talking magical thinking—but some level of rapture or depression or some level of emotionality that is not matter of fact, and I think that that’s what artists want,” he says. “So when you see something like that, I don’t think it’s so explicable.”

Shapiro, whose art has been exhibited widely around the world—from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum in New York to a recent show at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in Switzerland—discusses a range of topics, from investing his art with emotion to the importance of color. He talks about the artists who have inspired him and the works he himself has collected. Art, he says, “is a manifestation of the culture, so it’s important. It shows you what’s going on.”

For this, and much more, tune in today.

Click here for the full transcript

Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words. I’m your host, Charlotte Burns, and joining me today is the artist, Joel Shapiro, who has been creating new forms for more than five decades; whether in space, in air, through minuscule or mammoth sculptures or through drawings and prints—and in many other media as well. His work is in major institutions and private collections around the world and, Joel, we’re very happy to have you here today, thank you for coming.

Joel Shapiro: I’m pleased to be here.

Charlotte Burns: I thought we could begin with a question that I always think is really interesting—it may not be interesting to answer—I’m always fascinated by how creative people spend their day. Can you describe a typical day in the studio for you? How do you approach your work? Do you have rhythms? Is each day different?

Joel Shapiro: Well, if I’m actually working on work, it’s great. It depends how the, kind of, urgency that I’m feeling. Sometimes I have to do stuff because it has to be done; other times, I don’t quite know what I want to do, which is more engaging.


Joel Shapiro


Since 1970, Joel Shapiro has been the subject of numerous solo and retrospective exhibitions worldwide. His work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; among many others. In 2016, Shapiro exhibited new sculpture and works on paper at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, and in 2017 he was the subject of a survey exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, as well as a solo exhibition at Pace London. He recently showed new sculpture and works on paper at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and was the subject of an exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Shapiro is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture in 2005. He lives and works in New York City.

Charlotte Burns

executive editor of In Other Words

Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

The live record

Behind the Scenes with Joel Shapiro

8 Images

For More on Joel Shapiro

“Joel Shapiro: Plaster, Paper, Wood, and Wire” exhibition at Yale University Art Gallery (2 March-10 June 2018)

“Joel Shapiro” exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (24 March-28 April 2018)

“Joel Shapiro – Sculpting Scale” interview by Amanda Partridge in Sotheby’s Chatsworth blog (20 September 2017)

Review of “Joel Shapiro” show at Pace London by Max L Feldman in Frieze (26 June 2017)

The seriousness of a child at play: Kenneth Baker on Joel Shapiro at the Nasher Sculpture Center” in The Art Newspaper (1 July 2016) 

“Joel Shapiro with Phong Bui” interview in The Brooklyn Rail (4 November 2007)

Where to look

Significant Works by Joel Shapiro

11 Images