in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask

Transcript: Magical Thinking with Sculptor Joel Shapiro

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

In Podcast Transcripts

Soundbites from the show

“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. So when you see something like that, I don’t think it’s so explicable” – Joel Shapiro

“I think there’s such exhilaration in the movement of them” — Charlotte Burns

“When I’m actually really working and exploring, trying to find something new, I don’t really think I know what it’ll be or what will set it apart from something I know” — Joel Shapiro

“Somehow, in my family, people thought art was okay” — Joel Shapiro


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.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: I just put stuff together and find it or draw, whatever. But that’s not necessarily every day.

Charlotte Burns: Do you enjoy working towards exhibitions?

Joel Shapiro: Yes, I mean, I have lots of anxiety about it, but I absolutely enjoy it and when I come up with work that really engages me, I’m ecstatic.

Charlotte Burns: When exhibitions are installed, or after you think about it, do you see ideas in your work that you hadn’t noticed before?

Joel Shapiro: I think when you do an exhibition, you don’t quite know what… when work is in your hand or in your studio, it’s very different than work in public. When it’s in public, you become another perceiver and can have a very different insight into the work. I think that’s why it’s important to show, so then you really have a more objective take.

Charlotte Burns: I want to ask you about something I read where you’d said that art is about degrees of rapture, which reminded me of something you had said in another interview, in which you recalled the effect of watching a magical documentary on Maillol when you were in elementary school and you said in that documentary, he seemed to you to be ecstatic. I think there were several years between these different interviews and I was thinking about that strain of rapture or ecstasy; is something that you have described in terms of art that you’ve seen or made? I just wondered if you can talk a little bit more about that?

Joel Shapiro: I think it’s when you make something that’s not predictable. I think all artists have desired intent that they can’t quite articulate or at least that it manifests itself in the work and then it’s revelatory. So, there is this moment of real joy and ecstasy. It fades fast.


That’s why you go back to work.

Charlotte Burns: [Laughs] Yes, so you keep going.

Joel Shapiro: I think that’s the fun part. That’s the really gratifying part of making work is this sort of moment of realization where you have this, you know, it is this degree of rapture. Not in any corny way, but it’s just the sense of satisfaction; that you’ve explicated the situation that you’ve been dwelling on that you haven’t quite understood. So, I would imagine that kind of aesthetic moment occurs for all people. If you’re a scientist, I would imagine that would happen or a mathematician—

Charlotte Burns: I’m not sure every job has a degree of rapture.

Joel Shapiro: Well, I know that. That sort of sense of working a bit in the unknown and then sort of knowing what it is, or seeing it. It doesn’t mean that’s it’s necessarily profound; it just means that in terms of your experience, that is something. You know, when you’re really into work, and I’m not talking about drudgery—that’s not the same thing—but coming to some real moment of realization is exhilarating.

Charlotte Burns: Absolutely, I can—

Joel Shapiro: Yes, and to identify that. I think you can do things and not recognize it too. But it’s very up; it’s kind of buoyant. And even if it’s miserable, at least it’s a definition.

Charlotte Burns: When you begin a work, do you know how it will end?

Joel Shapiro: Not quite, it’s usually an unusual resolution. Unless I’m doing something that I know, which, you know, sometimes you’re doing that. I think with sculpture a lot, you’re dealing with a lot of material form and logistics, which are not always fun or necessarily rewarding.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: When I’m actually really working and exploring, trying to find something new, I don’t really think I know what it’ll be or what will set it apart from something I know.

Charlotte Burns: Do you work in different media simultaneously? Do you approach different media with different intents?

Joel Shapiro: I always liked working on paper, I mean drawing, as a kind of … you don’t have to deal with the technical aspects of making sculpture. And also the format is given to you. In my most recent drawings, I’ve basically been splotching ink around and using a bit of gouache and this and that, and folding paper over. And I really don’t know what I’m going to come up with, but I would not … to have that degree of fluidity in material is perhaps more challenging.

Charlotte Burns: Right, of course.

Joel Shapiro: I’ve also figured out what using pen guns, and rapidly putting stuff together, and so the sculpture has become more fluid. In the past, I think particularly some earlier work I would draw—I would never draw the sculpture.

Charlotte Burns: You never did?

Joel Shapiro: I have on occasion, but it’s like something I think is really boring. Like why bother doing it? If you’re going to draw your sculpture, it’s like your sculpture is posing for you. But I think there were ideas about making sculpture that I could realize in the drawing that I could not realize in the sculpture. So, in a certain way, the drawing could be ahead of the sculpture.

Charlotte Burns: I see, right.

Joel Shapiro: Okay, I had to put five masses together, you could do it on a page.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: But you have to do that in the air; good luck. You need other people and hold this up and hold that up. How do you get a mass up in the air without a tripod or suspending it or something. Now I suspend it instead of using a tripod. You don’t have to deal with physical space.

Charlotte Burns: Yes, or physics in that way.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, right, and I think in drawing you really have that opportunity to do that. Then it would feed back into the sculpture, so that kind of discourse.

I began to use wire and string to support pieces because I didn’t have to have as much physical support. And also, I could become independent of the floor.

Charlotte Burns: Right, of course. Do you go through phases; is it sort of progression towards becoming more fluid in the work, if you look back on it?

Joel Shapiro: Has the work become more fluid? Yes, I think. As a younger artist, you’re more guarded; you’re more defended. As you mature, you try to lay yourself out more.

Charlotte Burns: Who do you see as your peers? Is it that lineage of Modernism? Is it artists working today? Are there past masters that you think about?

Joel Shapiro: I think there are a lot of peers who are artists my age, who are of my generation, who interest me; and there are younger artists who interest me. There are historical artists who interest me. I also think, at least in the world of sculpture, that many of them deal with the same thing—it could be the 17th-century—there is more continuity between trying to find meaning in form than I think people recognize.

Charlotte Burns: Talk me through that a little bit.

Joel Shapiro: Well, it’s hard but—

Charlotte Burns: We have time. So, let’s see where we go.

Joel Shapiro: Well, at one point I thought that sculpture is really about a kind of unfolding and recognition that unless you got … the work that really interested you is the work you didn’t understand.

Charlotte Burns: You used to think that or you still think that?

Joel Shapiro: I still sort of feel that to some extent. A really engaging work is work, the composite piece. You can’t get beyond it and really see what it is. I think that that’s the moment where the artist is really, you know, the maker of the thing must’ve been in some other state because it’s beyond the ordinary. I mean, if you look at a great de Kooning or a great Pollock or a great Giacometti, they’re really some other level.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: And that’s not so easy to exist in some other realm. 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. So, when you see something like that, I don’t think it’s so explicable.

Charlotte Burns: Yes, the mysterious.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, so I think that’s continues to draw—at some point, you’re at the same emotional level and you can understand that, or you’ve experienced it.

Charlotte Burns: Yes. Do you remember the first work of art that had that effect on you?

Joel Shapiro: There are lots but I think definitely Giacometti’s Woman With Her Throat Cut (1932) was sort of an extraordinary, complicated sculpture and clearly affected me and affected every other sculptor who ever made anything. I mean, you’d have to.

Charlotte Burns: How old were you when you saw it?

Joel Shapiro: I don’t remember. I probably saw it many times and didn’t recognize it, and then when I was really committed to making form, recognized it.

Charlotte Burns: It’s so interesting the things that draw you in.

You grew up in Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, New York, which is a planned community founded upon utopian ideals of social reform. Residents share large courtyards and the architecture is of a particularly appealing scale and that attracted artists, radicals and intellectuals into this sort of enclave of liberal thought during what was otherwise a tense time in America and internationally. How did that shape your thinking or your life? Your art?

Joel Shapiro: Well, I was a kid, I don’t know if it affected … I took art classes. In fact there was a painting teacher which had painting classes in the basement of the house.

Charlotte Burns: Your house?

Joel Shapiro: Yes. He was a real German expressionist, not of any fame, but he was a real artist so. Somehow, in my family, people thought art was okay. But my father was a physician, always dealt with artists who were on the edge of poverty, so that was something he was worried about or concerned about.

Charlotte Burns: That’s interesting.

Joel Shapiro: I took ceramic classes. I mean, that’s the only place where I functioned well.

Charlotte Burns: You did toy with the idea of being a physician.

Joel Shapiro: Well, it was imposed upon me to some extent. My mother was a scientist, too, so they were, somehow, this was my sense of their desire. I don’t know if it was their desire.

Charlotte Burns: Or your sense of it. Yes.

Joel Shapiro: Yes. So, it was maybe my sense. Then, after a period of time, I was in the Peace Corps in India.

Charlotte Burns: I was going to ask you about that. What effect did that have on you to be immersed in another culture, language and history?

Joel Shapiro: Well, it was great. I don’t know about the language.

Charlotte Burns: Yes. I guess. Yes.

Joel Shapiro: I don’t think my Telugu was very good or involved. I could get by in a paan shop, not pawn, paan, stuff you chew. But my language was pretty bad.

Well, it had a big effect on me, and it was sort of interesting to get outside of, get away and sort of have this real independence.

Charlotte Burns: Freedom.

Joel Shapiro: Cultural independence, too, and a kind of perspective on another culture. It was very rich. We would go to dances and music. I was fortunate, too, because the group I was with moved every three months so basically, I was free.

Charlotte Burns: That’s so interesting.

Joel Shapiro: I mean, I had to my job, teach, whatever I was doing. Then, I could … There were always long periods, gaps, where you could go to Orissa, go to Calcutta. And then I met people who were really serious about art. I was good friends with an architect, and very good friends with a family who were sort of patrons of the arts. They had wonderful parties and lots of artists showed up.

These were people who were really serious about the arts. They were cultured and somehow I, maybe because I fell in with a group of people who were really culturally alive and art had tremendous meaning to them. That was really interesting.

Charlotte Burns: And empowering, I imagine.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, that was meaningful.

Charlotte Burns: Were you making art at that time, drawing? Yes.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, I tried. Yes, I had. I have some vile picture of myself painting a picture painting. I don’t know where I was.

Charlotte Burns: Did you determine during that trip that you wanted to come back to America?

Joel Shapiro: At that point, I was convinced that I was an artist, or I was going to pursue that.

Charlotte Burns: Do you think that your work straddles abstraction and representation? Do you think that’s a fair thing to say? Do you see it that way?

Joel Shapiro: Well, it’s a convenient thing to say. Yes. I think it’s fair. Yes. I don’t think it’s ever been memetic. I never try and … If I use representation, I mean, it’s all something one can use toward some other means, but I don’t think I’ve ever been interested in representation per se.

Charlotte Burns: No.

Joel Shapiro: I wouldn’t be very … I’m not good at it. I guess I could be if I had to. If somebody forced me with electric prods and they said: “Go draw that. Draw an apple”, I could do it.

Charlotte Burns: But you don’t necessarily need to.

Joel Shapiro: There’s figuration in the work, but I think there is in most work. So, it might straddle that more–

Charlotte Burns: That makes sense.

Joel Shapiro: —than representation because I don’t think that I’m … Though, you know, it could be representative of factualness.

Charlotte Burns: In what way?

Joel Shapiro: Oh, the material itself, which I think a lot of, or you know, some, Minimal art is.

Charlotte Burns: Your work often has real emotion and sensuality to it. You bring together forms that inspire emotion in the viewer. Do you strive for specific emotion with different works?

Joel Shapiro: I think I did. I think in early work. The first time I did a figurative piece was probably early ’70s. I was interested in you would see the piece and you would have this emotional sense, that the piece would be a sign of an emotion. It would invoke an emotion or invoke that experience.

I would have a figure splayed out or whatever it might be. It was sort of like developing a language, but I think eventually, at some point, when I had a better—you know, more sense of elation—the work changed. It became more complicated.

Charlotte Burns: What do you mean?

Joel Shapiro: I sort of want work to have a life of its own and deal with architecture but not depend on architecture in terms of its experience. I want it to have an emotional life.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: I try to invest that into the work. Or I invest my own emotion into the work. My own sense of being in the work. Maybe that’s old fashioned. I don’t know.

Charlotte Burns: I don’t think so. I think that’s …

Joel Shapiro: But I think that’s how a work has real vitality and meaning. Or can. There’s other work that does not do that. I always think that all work is a reflection of the individual who makes it. Art is some artifact of an individual.

Charlotte Burns: I’m thinking of work that you made for the Holocaust Museum, and how you talked about trying to compress emotion into—

Joel Shapiro: That was a tough—you just had to lay yourself out.

Charlotte Burns: Yes. That must have been incredibly difficult to approach.

Joel Shapiro: Well, it was a challenge. It’s something I had thought about a lot. And I think there’s no real resolution. I mean, there’s no perfect… For starters, with something like that, you’re only mediating. It’s not your experience, so it’s your relationship to… It’s a complicated subject. Some people think there should be no such thing, that you can’t mediate, or you can’t sort of deal with something.

Charlotte Burns: You can’t memorialize.

Joel Shapiro: Well, you can memorialize if there’s a commonality, but if you’re not part of that, then what’s your experience? My experience of the Holocaust is not the experience of somebody who suffered through it.

Charlotte Burns: At that point, you just sort of take a deep breath and make stuff. You’re thinking all the time. You just put it together. To have that kind of fluidity between thought, desire, ambition, and form is exciting.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: I go back and look at that piece; it holds up.

Charlotte Burns: I want you to talk to me a little bit about your use of color. You’ve said that you believe it can have an intrinsic, metaphorical quality or certain cultural meanings, depending on how it’s used. Do you approach color systematically or intuitively?

Joel Shapiro: I think intuitively. So, I just grab a color that interests me. Color is challenging. I hate to think it’s a question of taste [laughs]. Could be. Yes. I think color has meaning, and color in one context means something else than it does in another context.

Charlotte Burns: Do different colors make you feel different things?

Joel Shapiro: Yes, I mean, they change form. Use a darker color; it kind of condenses the form. Some more colors, more flighty and expands.

Charlotte Burns: You began making suspended forms that fill whole galleries in around 2010, which you characterized as a projection of thought into space without the constraint of architecture, which I love. I really like those works, too. I think there’s such exhilaration in the movement of them. Do you find, for example, in making those works that different colors work better in the air than on the floor? Can it be reduced to that?

Joel Shapiro: I think the problem is to come up with color that’s really unusual and different and sort of where you’re not walking into a predictable situation. You just have to find it. Color is its whole, it’s a language.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: It’s fun. As a sculptor, it’s fun. Color’s so important. Polychrome sculpture is this whole, huge history. Color is kind of thought, as a mark.

Charlotte Burns: To punctuate.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, it’s also you’re putting in a layer. You’re not hiding, enveloping something with color. You can alter and change form or hide the form or introduce these sort of other aspects. Am I being evasive?

Charlotte Burns: No, no. Not at all.

Joel Shapiro: Color is really interesting. And I think sculptors use it in a kind of singular way.

Charlotte Burns: What was the last show you saw that you felt really inspired by? Do you go and see a lot of other art?

Joel Shapiro: I’m trying to do it more and more. For a while I wasn’t. The last show that I thought was truly phenomenal was the Donatello show at the Museum of Biblical Art.

Charlotte Burns: Oh, yes—that was amazing.

Joel Shapiro: It was a great show.

Charlotte Burns: That was an unbelievable exhibition. I remember it.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, you’re just so close to this work that you couldn’t really approach, and you could see just how brilliant Donatello was, how he was aware of the perceiver.

Charlotte Burns:  Yes.

Joel Shapiro: Far more aware of the perceiver than the subject.

Charlotte Burns: Do you think about the perceiver when you’re making your work?

Joel Shapiro: Yes, I do. I mean, not as much as I should, but I do. I mean, not when I’m doing it. Maybe when I install the work. If you’re working on a large piece, you have to. Eventually, you have to deal with who is going to see it; how they see it.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: I mean, I don’t think you adjust and alter the views, but I think Donatello, Donatello is just so much stronger than his peers.

Charlotte Burns: How do think the art world has changed since your youth?

Joel Shapiro: Larger


Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: It’s changed so much. But when I was young, people were involved with making art. I mean, you know what art, and they still are. I don’t think that’s changed.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: I think maybe the mechanics, and the exhibitions, and the way galleries function have changed. And auction houses, and you know, it’s become this really complex…

Charlotte Burns: Industry.

Joel Shapiro: Industry.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, with a big economy.

Charlotte Burns: You’ve been successful through your career. What are the blessings of success, or the challenges of success?

Joel Shapiro: Not being successful


Yes, I’ve been fortunate. I mean I’ve always had gallery representation, and I’ve always made enough money from my work and…

Charlotte Burns: Made a life from your work.

Joel Shapiro: Yes. I think it’s tough. I think it’s tough for artists. Many have to teach, and they get discouraged, and don’t have the opportunity to evolve.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: So, I think that, you know, in the end you sort of evolve in public. That’s what Malcolm Morley told me once. And Max’s, he said: “Well you have to develop in public.”

Charlotte Burns: It’s so true. I never really thought of that.

Joel Shapiro: Yes. It’s hard.

Charlotte Burns: There’s not really anywhere to hide.

Joel Shapiro: How I think a lot of people, it’s embarrassing. You know, face it. To having shows and stumbling, and a sense of possible failure, is something that every artist who’s exhibiting has to deal with. It’s one thing in your studio, it’s disappointing enough, but then to do it out in the world.

Charlotte Burns: Is that where the anxiety comes in?

Joel Shapiro: I think so, yes. I mean, I think, I don’t have real anxiety, but I always have trepidation. You know, did I choose the right piece?

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: But I think now, you know, I can synthesize all that stuff and come up with my own… You know, I can deal with stuff a lot easier.

Charlotte Burns: Yes. Do you feel like certain works of yours, whether from particular periods or in certain styles, have been less well understood than others?

Joel Shapiro: Oh definitely, yes. I think my more abstract work was more difficult. It’s definitely more difficult for people. They love the work that they can identify with—has arms and legs, and you know, they can relate to the posture, and that’s what they really like. I think real abstraction is challenging for people today.

Charlotte Burns: In a different interview, you talked about abstraction. You were talking about the challenges of abstraction for artists working in that way, in that it required faith.

Joel Shapiro: Oh!

Charlotte Burns: And a degree of, sort of, fumbling around and boldness that … maybe it required more of that than other forms that you could create. Do you think that that’s still the case?

Joel Shapiro: Yes, I mean I think abstraction requires a lot of faith. And you know, it’s sort of, you have to believe in it. I don’t think it’s easy to do abstract. I don’t think it’s easy to continue to do abstraction. I think it’s a real challenge. I mean, I think that you could lose faith. I think there has to be a cultural momentum behind it to have that belief in that system.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: And also, the artist has to sort of lay themself into the work. So, there’s a kind of real physical sense. So, I mean abstraction’s challenging. I think it’s hard to believe in. It’s still not well considered.

Charlotte Burns: It’s harder to—

Joel Shapiro: It’s hard.

Charlotte Burns: —to identify with…

Joel Shapiro: I think for the public, yes. To a large extent.

Charlotte Burns: Do you—

Joel Shapiro: They still ridicule it, and they find it—

Charlotte Burns: Incomprehensible somehow.

Joel Shapiro: I don’t know if that’s true anymore. But, I think if you want, I mean you got a real kind of abstract energy during the Russian revolution. That was a huge momentum behind that, and a huge set of beliefs. Abstract Expressionism and American triumph in World War II. I don’t think that work would’ve evolved without that political context.

Charlotte Burns: Do you feel like for people to understand your more abstract works, it would take that cultural momentum, or do you think it would take a great exhibition? Just putting it all together and clarifying that?

Joel Shapiro: I think a big exhibition. Yes, a big exhibition would really… of course I would say that!


Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: The largest exhibition possible.


Charlotte Burns: Yes—the largest exhibition possible in the most prestigious place.

Joel Shapiro: At all the museums!

No, I mean, my work’s pretty abstract. A lot of it is, and I think people really respond to it.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: I think it engages. I mean it has, it must engage. I always sort of find certain artists who are doing extremely abstract work need a lot of confirmation and support.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: And I don’t know if they get it. Where if they’re doing more recognizable stuff, you know, they’re getting more feedback, but I’m not sure if I would stand by that right now.

Charlotte Burns: I think you’re probably true.

Joel Shapiro: Yes.

Charlotte Burns: I think that makes sense.

Joel Shapiro: I mean—

Charlotte Burns: You’re probably right there.

Joel Shapiro: People love Picasso. He’s a great artist, and Matisse. And they’re abstract artists, but I mean they can … they’re empathic with the form and the meaning.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: It’s much more difficult to look at a Kandinsky or a Mondrian.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: I mean, they’re more … philosophical, perhaps more spiritual.

Charlotte Burns: Lyrical, spiritual.

Joel Shapiro: I mean they’re hard. It’s very demanding. So, there’s a demanding aspect in abstraction. Not all abstraction.

Charlotte Burns: No, of course. But I think abstraction often, you know there’s the emotionality, the emotion behind abstraction.

Joel Shapiro: If you can put that into it.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: You know, which—

Charlotte Burns: Spirituality, like you say. Wassily Kandinsky, Rothko.

Joel Shapiro: Rothko and Pollock do, and de Kooning has a certain panache that’s so invigorating. But I mean, if they’re really good artists they can-

Charlotte Burns: They can put that in.

Joel Shapiro: They can put that in, and then it’s very viable.

Charlotte Burns: Yes, that’s true. That’s interesting.

Joel Shapiro: So, it’s the really dry stuff that’s hard, but maybe challenging.

Charlotte Burns: Do you have favorite works that you’ve made, that you think about with more pleasure than others? Or satisfaction?

Joel Shapiro: Yes. I mean there are works that I’ve done that I like, and there are works that I think, did I do that? They kind of get reframed as you—

Charlotte Burns: Yes, as you have different vantage points.

Joel Shapiro: Yes, where you are and what you want to do. And also, how somebody else looks at work. That’s an interesting phenomenon. You can really sense when somebody’s responsive to work, and it can enliven your own, or it can reinforce, your own sense of it. And if they really dislike it, you can pick up on that too.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: I mean artists are empathic. If you’re having some intimate relationship, you know, with discussion. We can skip all that. It’s too complicated.

Charlotte Burns: I think it’s really interesting.

Joel Shapiro: But, I mean, it’s catching—

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: —how someone perceives. The consensus is, I think, when I was a younger artist, you know, if this person was interested in your work, and that person, it was some consensus about work.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: And the consensus wasn’t about, it wasn’t about money. Money was about supporting the ability to work. It wasn’t about the accumulation of wealth. And now I think, you know, wealth is another factor.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: So, I think, yes, the galleries were there. You know, Paula opened up, and the idea was to support the art. To encourage a group of artists to be able to do their work. And nobody ever took a vow of poverty, but it wasn’t the principle. The principle’s idea was to have engaging, interesting, meaningful exhibitions. But, I still think that’s, even in the most commercial galleries, well no, I mean I think that’s a guiding principle.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: That the art world still respects.

Charlotte Burns: I agree. I just think it’s, you know there are two horses pulling, and sometimes one is pulling faster than another.

Do you collect work yourself?

Joel Shapiro: Yes, Ellen and I have quite a large collection. Not large, but mostly a lot of drawings.

Charlotte Burns: Yes.

Joel Shapiro: And not necessarily contemporary.

Charlotte Burns: What’s your favorite thing today? I’m sure that it shifts.

Joel Shapiro: Oh, I have a little Miró etching that I love. It’s just a complicated drawing. It’s a complicated etching. Red and black, war series, and I just think he’s such a great artist.

We have quite a lot of Gorky drawings, which are very satisfying. What else do we have? We have, you know, a kind of really crude Degas. That’s really about struggle, and learning. And a, kind of, extremely sad Matisse.

Charlotte Burns: Really.

Joel Shapiro: That was very, sort of, beautiful drawing, but the model looks totally tender and fragile. But it’s a great drawing.

Charlotte Burns: We’ve been talking about a few different things in this conversation. We have spoken about giving meaning to form, emotion in work, ecstasy in reception or production. Do you have specific theories about the power of art, or just a sense of its importance?

Joel Shapiro: Well, I mean I think it’s important. I think it’s culturally important. Do I think it’s transformative and will alter things? No.

Charlotte Burns: You don’t?

Joel Shapiro: Well, yes. It’s a manifestation of the culture, so it’s important. It sort of shows you what’s going on.

Charlotte Burns: Right.

Joel Shapiro: And that’s meaningful and significant, but beyond that? I think it’s really important. I think politically it’s important. And I think, you know, in greater times there can be greater freedom, and I think it’s uplifting.

Charlotte Burns: Is there anything that you want to discuss that we didn’t discuss?

Joel Shapiro: No, I think we’ve talked about a lot.

Charlotte Burns: Yes, it’s been really enjoyable.

Joel Shapiro: Well, I’ve totally enjoyed it.

Charlotte Burns: Thank you so much for being my guest.

Joel Shapiro: Well, it was a pleasure.