The last time muscular gesture painting of any kind was celebrated in this town was in the early '80s, when Julian Schnabel did his "Maria Callas" and "Mutant King" series. Even those paragons of Neo-Expressionism might seem slack compared to Michael Goldberg's new work, on view earlier this year at Lennon, Weinberg in SoHo.
Paintings like the forward bursting Time the Hangman and The Jolly Stompers III are outstanding examples of the sustained appeal of unleashed New York School type gesture. Rope-sized lines knot together like rigging while looser lines of color knit over and under the weave with ecstatic snap and tension. These are the most muscular paintings I've seen in quite a while, and surely Goldberg is the last man standing as far as this game goes near the end of the century.
It's hard to tell, because in this age of seamless video, C-prints and illustrated line, the gestural style is so far gone that anything with a little ripple from the shoulder looks plenty daring. Goldberg's spectacular motor control reminds me of Ron Asheton's lead guitar on the Stooges' Fun House, where a fierce balance is struck between the disciplined control and open fury of the artists' hand. The economy of Goldberg's surfaces, too, where the paint has been scraped and teased just the right amount, only heightens the pitch of this overall squall.
In the back gallery were 53 untitled watercolors covering the walls like some East Village group show. These works on paper were nonchalantly tacked up crazy-quilt style. The effect of this room was spirited. The absence of blonde wooden frames was welcome -- "I don't want it to be a show about frames," the artist told me -- because so much light, white wood and glass can sometimes smother the life out of drawings. Especially now that those "museum quality" frames have become part of the uniform look of Chelsea, art fairs and magazine-spread "lifestyle."
Some of the paintings, such as The Widow's Lament in Springtime and To be closely written on a small piece of paper which folded into a tight lozenge will fit any girl's locket, are like blown-up drawings. Their loopy calligraphic lines are drawn speedy graffito style with oil stick over bare canvas that in both pale color and absence looks just like paper.
I've never known any woman who wore a locket, but I really admire these titles, which suggest a life long kept in sentimental despair. The stringy gestural threads in these two paintings translate well to any scale, and are nearly identical to washed lines found in Goldberg's watercolors, which he treats roughly, washing them in the sink under running water.
These new paintings strike me as full on, full tilt. Goldberg has taken his mature, supposedly tired style, and just nudged it over the edge. Not in a crazy or desperate way either, like Larry Poons or Frank Stella have sometimes done, but with well-tempered dexterity and a lean vitality.
MICHAEL BRENNAN is a New York painter who writes on art.