Much of the art of the twentieth century has attempted to reconcile the figurative and the abstract; Joel Shapiro is one of the few to do so in three dimensions. Atop the Metropolitan Museum, five of his spindly objects are on view throughout the summer, set against the verdant backdrop of Central Park and, beyond, the notched curtain of the city itself. This show marks the first time his sculpture has been situated high above the street, and it’s appropriate because Shapiro sees his work not “as an extension of architecture but in healthy opposition.” As he said in a recent interview, “I’m not interested in the floor, wall, or tabletop as a pattern, a template, as a basis of form … the corollary of painting being limited by format is sculpture’s acquiescence to any architecture.” What he is interested in is the human figure.

One of the first works one sees upon stepping out onto the Met...


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