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Bird-like sculpture hits Guangzhou

By Mike Peters | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-28 14:25

Bird-like sculpture hits Guangzhou

Joel Shapiro says Guangzhou is growing rapidly and it was a great honor to be asked to make a sculpture in such a vibrant context. [Photo by Jim McHugh / China Daily]

Joel Shapiro's huge birdlike sculpture for the new US consulate in Guangzhou, Mike Peters reports, was an exercise in form and has a contemporary edge that suits the fast developing city.

When sculptor Joel Shapiro went to work designing a massive sculpture for the new US consulate in Guangzhou, he didn't conceive it as "birdlike". That's the recurring adjective when people describe the finished piece, Now, and Shapiro doesn't mind a bit.

"I can see that," he says on his return to New York after supervising installation of the huge blue piece in China. "It's perfectly OK."

"What I wanted to project was a sense of uplift - make it celebratory and a reflection of individual spirit," he says. "It's a projection of thought into form: I don't know that there is any greater, deeper meaning."

The fact that there's no overriding narrative is typical of his work. Now is composed of six pieces of painted aluminum that come together in a radical configuration but barely touch each other, another hallmark of a Shapiro piece.

At 6.7 meters the piece was "a bit" too big for Shapiro to cut and put together in his studio.

"People suggested building it in China and I'm sure it could have been done - it would have been fun to do, in fact. But I would have had to be there, and I just didn't have the time."

So Shapiro teamed up with KC Fabrications, in Gardiner, New York, and the fabrication took about nine months. After that, he toyed with the idea of hand-painting it himself.

Though he was tempted, he wasn't sure he could get the necessary adhesion, so he took advantage of new spray-paint technologies that have made it easier to get the look he wanted - paint the Pentagon has developed for military vehicles.

That included a matte finish, not glossy.

"In the past, the only good paints were shiny," he says. "With matte you read the form, shiny you read the surface. You don't want the shiny, glossy, Buick look."

Since his first exhibition in 1970, Shapiro's work has been the subject of many one-person shows and retrospectives around the US and Europe.

On April 30, FAPE, which commissioned the Guangzhou piece, will celebrate the work of Shapiro and others at a reception and dinner, where Shapiro will ceremonially present Now's design to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

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