New York

Michael Goldberg

Galerie Denise Rene

Michael Goldberg’s long career has been marked by several changes in format and style. During the ’50s (when he was one of the leading lights of the Abstract-Expressionist “second generation”) his style vacillated between the expansive, theatrical, emphatically painterly drips and slashes of action painting and the evidences, tenuous or overt, of figuration. In the 1960s Goldberg modified his abstract vocabulary into graceful, erratic, still grandly scaled networks of lines and forms rendered against delicately hued fields.

By the first years of this decade Goldberg had subsumed formal detail into soft-focus orbs and bands; these did not define but were defined by the often garishly luminous coloration. In recent work formal concerns have restated their predominance over coloristic ones; now, Goldberg concerns himself with unified focal images, and with the sense of materiality that they project.

The thrust of his current activity is most apparent in his drawings. In each of the extended series of equal-size works on heavy stock paper, Goldberg has created a shape without rendering it. That is, the act of drawing or painting has been replaced by the act of sculpting. He actually molds the paper by rubbing, gouging, and otherwise kneading a central area into one of a wide vocabulary of simple forms (circles, triangles, arcs, crescents, undulating lines, and the like). Except for an occasional touch of faint color, these drawings—or, more accurately, paperworks—have been realized entirely through the creation and manipulation of texture. They invite the touch, but there is no denying they are readily perceived images, not optically diffuse tactile experiences.

These drawings reflect a current interest among abstract painters in the natural substance of the materials with which they work. Many painters—most noticeably in California, but increasingly on the East Coast also—have satisfied their desire to explicate process by working their media in almost sculptural ways. For some, the distinction between painting and sculpture has broken down completely.

Such responsiveness to attitudes in the air is nothing new for Goldberg. He has always been especially sensitive to newly developed and available modes whenever he has exhausted old ones. The formal language of action painting, the abstract-figurative ambiguities of de Kooning, Hartigan, and early Rivers, the asymmetric linear structures and atmospheric coloration of the informal abstractionists of the late ’60s—and of Richard Diebenkorn—and now the new material sensibility among painters, all seem to have struck in him a sympathetic chord.

But Goldberg is no fashion-chaser or skillful craftsman in constant search for ideas. His faithfulness to modes of (more or less) two-dimensional artmaking—specifically, modes which encourage exploration of the physical properties of media—has remained constant for over 20 years. Also, Goldberg’s formulations cannot be mistaken for anyone else’s, regardless of his varied formats. If Goldberg employs no signatory devices, he does keep addressing the same basic question: what can be done with this stuff? And he keeps settling the question himself, for himself.

Peter Frank