New York

Joseph Goto

Zabriskie Gallery

Joseph Goto showed 23 sculptures. The works, dating from the mid ’50s to the mid ’60s, are of steel and are mostly table-sized, although there were also photographs of two recent, large-scale public pieces (one being installed for a stint in the little square across from Lincoln Center).

During the decade in question Goto worked in a plastic, even malerisch, expressionist mode. He hovers stylistically between men like Lipton and Ferber on one side and Smith on the other. His emotionalism is less assaulting than the former but less elegantly resolved than the latter. The expressionism reveals itself in a slam-bang attitude toward a material that can “take it,” even though Goto can be highly successful on a small scale, in reductive ways, without any feeling of miniaturization. An example of this strength at close quarters is No. 18, 1960, which, for a man interested in guts, is utterly tiny (4 1/2” x 7” x 4 1/2”); this is a dense, monolithic, bricklike block, bulging slightly (as if still partly molten or of clay), with one corner chopped out and a sort of three-dimensional doodle inserted at that point.

These calligraphic doodles are one of the less pleasing features of Goto’s work. Too often they function as a rhetorical foil to what seems like the form proper. (Herbert Ferber often makes a similar doubtful move.) What happens is that the subordinate and free-wheeling calligraphic part emerges as the false transliteration of a painting idea—a stroke that does not share in the definition of a form but instead finds a generalized place for itself without immediate formal responsibility. Why needlessly extend to sculpture a difficulty of painting?

The more Goto avoids this pointless linear scribbling the better the art gets. In another small piece, No. 8, 1960, the “writing” partly relaxes into an open spatial curve, fused to the side of a solid oblong block which is in turn joined by a low vertical cylinder that jacks up the piece into a hovering situation. This is one of the most satisfying pieces.

Landscape II, from 1956–59, has in the shallowness of its volume displacement and in its linearity and overall pictorialism, a pretty obvious similarity to David Smith’s Hudson River Landscape of 1951. Nothing wrong with that, except that we cannot help but notice that the Smith is more subtly composed, and that the elements of its composition are more continually and mutually structural. By comparison, the Goto is far less homogeneous; the difference is between reciprocation and prosaic compensation in the relations of the forms.

Where Goto comes close to the thinking of Caro the art gains an organizing rhythm in the relations of the axes of its elements. This is true of the swaying, leaning, nudging chunky parts of No. 6, 1963, as well as of the hovering effect in No. 8. In No. 6 and other works Goto’s taste for thick hunks of steel has about it a powerful but controlled emotionalism and implied desire to avoid the concept of steel as sheet metal—with implied planarity—and to embrace it instead as a dense, marblelike solid that can be hacked and torn without losing its blocky qualities. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t get excitingly revealed.

Joseph Masheck