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Review: Michael Goldberg at Manny Silverman Gallery

July 3, 2009 |  3:30 pm

Goldberg A fine little survey of Michael Goldberg’s paintings on canvas and paper from 1960 to 2003 gives a glimpse of the deep intelligence embodied by the furiously worked surfaces of the New Yorker’s abstractions. At the Manny Silverman Gallery, his 17 small- to large-scale paintings show an artist consistently succeeding in the struggle to wrestle the unexpected from gestures and techniques that increasingly ran the risk of degenerating into formulaic clichés.

Goldberg (1924-2007) belongs to one of the most misunderstood (and overlooked) groups of American painters: second-generation Abstract Expressionists. For decades, many historians have treated his works, along with those by Norman Bluhm, Alfred Leslie, Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, as merely refining or polishing up the more ambitious paintings by their immediate predecessors, namely Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.

Today, it’s clear that Goldberg demanded a lot more than that from painting and regularly got it. None of the works in his impressively diverse and wildly energized exhibition has the same tempo, rhythm, pulse or punch as another. Each is as raw and unscripted as a life lived on the edge, without a safety net or particularly detailed plan other than keeping it fresh. All go far out of their way to keep preciousness, facility and the artist’s inner being out of the picture.

Goldberg often blotted out large sections, scraped off freshly applied passages, scribbled over others and mechanically repeated basic shapes, creating inchoate patterns and striped, building blocks of fresh, unmixed colors. By putting some distance between his touch or his hand, he made works that anticipated much of the most engaging painting being made in the Digital Age, when cool detachment on the part of the artist allows for more heated passion on the part of viewers.

-- David Pagel

Manny Silverman Gallery, 619 N. Almont Drive, L.A., (310) 659-8256, through Aug. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Above: "Jacob's Ladder XV." Credit: Manny Silverman Gallery