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Michael Goldberg
at CSU Long Beach, University Art Museum, Long Beach, California / Manny Silverman Gallery, West Hollywood, California
Review by Shirle Gottlieb

In concurrent exhibitions the second generation Abstract Expressionist painting of Michael Goldberg conveys boundless energy and a spirit of fearless search.

Wandering through the museum survey - surrounded by 30 paintings composed from layer upon layer of crisp, rapid brushstrokes and overlapping colors that slash across the canvas - it's obvious why "Perpetual Motion" was chosen as the name of this show. Michael Goldberg's bold, gestural brushwork never stops. Neither does his fearless search for new modes of artistic expression.

During the process of painting, Goldberg's pigment rapidly dances, ducks, dives, drips, and re-emerges to overlap itself. In so doing, this artist's Abstract Expressionist approach exemplifies some of the most dynamic work to come out of "The Second Generation" of Abstract Expressionists. But artists such as Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Alfred Leslie, and Norman Bluhm emphatically did not feel that they were "second" to anything or anybody. Nor did Goldberg.
Indeed, during an informal conversation with poet Bill Berkson (a close friend of Goldberg, who died in 2007) and Goldberg’s Los Angeles dealer Manny Silverman, they backed up the artists’ position. Together they told the standing-room-only audience that the ‘50s-era young turks considered their work to be a continuation, an extension, of art that had been evolving throughout history. To quote Goldberg: "Art comes out of art.  That's what  art does ... it doesn't spring full blown from the head of Zeus."

Call it what you will, you can almost hear the syncopated rhythm of jazz blaring out of Goldberg's paintings. And why not? According to poet Frank O'Hara, another life-long friend, Goldberg lived each day to the fullest. He loved good jazz, good wine, good poetry, and life in Italy almost as much as his compulsive need to create and art of authenticity.

Visitors to both shows can study Goldberg's relentless creative obsession as it evolved through his 60-year career. In the "Perpetual Motion" exhibit the work dates from 1949 to his death in 2007; at the Silverman Gallery 20 works on paper summarize his output from 1985-2004. Tying the knot between the two exhibition are several pieces included in the CSULB show that are on loan from the gallery.

A close look at the composition in a small, early, untitled watercolor reveals flat, muted, abstract shapes. Then gradually, over the course of decades, these forms give way to gestural brushwork that covers the canvas with an abandon that energizes it with breathtaking, dare-devil action.
One of the highlights in Long Beach is "Madame Recamier" (1956-57). Those familiar with Jacques Louis David's Neo-Classical painting might be able to detect this famous nude, reclining on her lounge under layers of frenetic overlay. That is, if you squint one eye and view her from a distance. Voila, she's barely visible. (No one should be surprised by this delightful attribution, since Goldberg's outrageous sense of humor was as bawdy as his intellect was fierce.)
In complete contrast, two wall-sized (91 X 156 inches and 120 X 120 inches) untitled works (courtesy of Lynn Umlauf, Goldberg's widow), reveal his 1970s exploration into monochromatic minimalism during the fervor of the Space Age.
Other dynamite standouts are two large-scale paintings of vineyards: "Spannocchia" (1986) draws its title from the name of a small village in Italy; and "Bacchus and Ariadne" (1992) features crisp, bold, sparkling stars that overlap each other and burst forth through the dark firmament. You won't want to miss "Bowery Days 30" (1993), a charming pastel/collage that references the area where Goldberg and his cohorts - William Burroughs, Mark Rothko, et al - lived for many years.
Still active in his studio at age 82, Goldberg created "Heraion of Argos" and "Sardos," both elegant, pristine, oil stick on canvas paintings that revert back to the flat, geometric-shaped format of his youth. Both were completed in 2006. After 60 years of unscripted, independent, fearless creative expression, it seems that Goldberg's final artistic vision was to simplify, simplify, simplify.

Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2010

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