His reputation as an artist is worldwide. His works have been on display in museums across the globe, from Australia and Denmark to England and Israel, as well as throughout the United States. But sculptor Joel Shapiro, a native of Sunnyside, has “never lost his affinity for this borough.”
Those were the words used by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) to introduce the man who was given a lifetime achievement award Monday night at a dinner to benefit the upcoming Long Island City Arts Open Festival.
“We gather to congratulate you and urge you on to create more wonders,” Van Bramer said.
An important modernist sculptor, Shapiro, whose works are generally abstract renderings of the human figure composed of simple rectangular shapes, lives in Manhattan but maintains a studio in Long Island City.
Represented in such prestigious museums as the National Gallery of Art and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, Shapiro was inspired by the two years he spent while serving in the Peace Corps in India, where he found art to be an integral part of society.
Originally intending to pursue a career in medicine, following in the footsteps of his scientist parents, he turned to art instead, with dozens of solo exhibitions to his credit and countless awards and honors to his name, including being elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998.
Still, at Monday’s ceremony, he said, “This is the most meaningful award I’ve ever received. I grew up here. The whole community is so full of the pulse of humanity. I’m really proud of this. I couldn’t be happier.”
Held at Manducatis Rustica V.I.G., a restaurant that has become the area’s unofficial community center, the dinner was a major fundraiser for the LIC Arts Open Festival, to be held this year from May 12-20.
The event, a celebration of the arts community in LIC, will involve more than 200 studios, with local artists opening their work spaces to the public. In addition, it will feature music, dance, and theater, as well as painting and sculpture exhibits.
The LIC Arts Open, co-founded by Richard Mazda and Karen Dimit, is, according to its website,” a collaboration of arts entities, businesses and individuals seeking to spotlight the diverse artistic community in LIC.”
“It’s great to honor a home-town hero,” Mazda said shortly after the presentation to Shapiro. “There was no real decision to be made. His reputation is huge. We love the fact that he keeps a studio in LIC.”
The award, donated by Green Mountain Graphics, a promotional products and printing company that has been in the neighborhood since 1994, was described by the store’s owner, Eric Greenberg, as a “large glass crystal teardrop.”
Greenberg and his wife, Rhonda, were among those on hand to celebrate the arts in the area.
“The arts are our connection to humanity,” Rhonda Greenberg said.
Ray Normandeau, a self-described “more or less retired actor,” was also in attendance with his wife, Rita.
“The arts help uplift the area. Exposure to the arts increases creativity in children. Arts help people develop,” he said.
And James Cornejo, an architect with an office nearby, believes “the arts make New York vibrant. People have different ways of expressing themselves through the arts. The arts are a necessity.”
As part of the evening, a silent auction was held, with items ranging from an 8-week adult acting course at the Secret Theatre and solid silver hoop earrings to skin care products and various works of art.
Food was donated by M Wells, LIC Market and Sage Catering.
Surveying the room, Van Bramer concluded, “The creative community is the foundation of our cultural and economic engine that really sustains the city.”
The festival, an eight-day celebration of the arts in LIC, is designed to raise the profile of the area’s artists, businesses and community. For details, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.