American, 1924 - 2007
A second generation Abstract Expressionist artist, Michael Goldberg’s painting defies classification, having undergone numerous changes throughout his long and prolific career. He has painted dynamic, gestural canvases; monochromatic, minimalist works; grids; calligraphic images; patterned or striped paintings, and he has experimented with collage. Untitled is a bold and vibrant gestural work that combines strong painterly black strokes with a rich color palette of charcoal, lemon yellow, purple, navy, and turquoise. Continuing to employ the spontaneous brushwork that first generation Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock prized as a direct channel to emotional content, younger artists such Goldberg, Milton Resnick, Grace Hartigan Joan Mitchell, and Larry Rivers, adopted a somewhat irreverent approach to Abstract Expressionist painting. As Barbara Haskell has described it, they possessed “ a new tolerance for a variety of aesthetic approaches, from figuration, to pure abstraction to collage.” (1) Goldberg himself embraced discontinuities and paradoxes within his work, claiming that “I often end up with a painting that looks like it’s been to Mars and back; sort of bumpy and battered looking – which I don’t mind at all.”(2)
At the same time, second generation artists forged friendships with first generation painters, and often remained deeply influenced by them throughout their careers. Goldberg, in an interview with David Shapiro, described his relationship to the older painters: “I was using territory that had been opened up and hopefully bringing my own sensibility to it. I was a follower admittedly; the Oedipal thing, I did not feel . . .. There just wasn’t an Oedipal situation. The Fathers you didn’t think of as fathers, they were more like older friends. I think that Bill [de Kooning]’s entire output until 1970 was partially concerned with disguising the mastery of his hand. And my whole work has been concerned with trying to gain mastery of hand.”(3) The big, flowing and almost calligraphic strokes in Untitled attest to the important impact of de Kooning and Kline on the development of his style.
Born December 24, 1924, in New York City, Goldberg began his artistic training at the Art Students League in New York (1938) and attended Hans Hofmann’s School of Art (1941-1942) before interrupting his studies to serve as a paratrooper in the United States Army in North Africa, China, Burma, and India. After World War II, Goldberg resumed his classes with Hofmann. He became involved in the avant-garde New York art scene, meeting Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Milton Resnick among others.
In 1951, Goldberg, under the name Michael Stuart, showed his paintings in the “Ninth Street Show,” arguably the first comprehensive display of Abstract Expressionist work. The following year he moved to 28 East 2nd Street and joined the artists’ “Club” on Eighth Street, gathering with other Abstract Expressionist painters to exchange artistic ideas. Around this time, he met the poet Frank O’Hara, who became a life-long friend and dedicated many poems to Goldberg. In addition, they collaborated on a project titled “Odes” in 1960. Goldberg maintained his connection with the Abstract Expressionist painters throughout the fifties and into the sixties. By 1953, he was a regular at Cedar Bar, known as a meeting place for avant-garde artists. Two years later, he moved into a studio next to that of De Kooning and Resnick. In 1962, he acquired Mark Rothko’s studio at 222 Bowery where he worked until his death in 2007.
Throughout his career, Goldberg exhibited prolifically. By 2003, he had had 99 solo exhibitions since his first show at Tibor de Nagy in New York in 1953. Over these years he exhibited at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, Galerie Biedermann, Munich, Germany, Manny Silverman Gallery Los Angeles, CA, Provincetown Art Association Provincetown, MA and Galleria Peccolo, Livorno, Italy among many others. Upon his death in 2007, Grace Glueck honored his achievements as “a painter of strong convictions who in his youth was influenced by the gestural Abstract Expressionist mode of older painters like Kline, Still and de Kooning, and never abandoned it.” (4)
Teaching played a central role in Goldberg’s career. He has held visiting artist positions at the University of California, Berkeley (1961) and the University of Minnesota (1967) and has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York City since 1979. Beginning in 1980, accompanied by his wife, the artist Lynn Umlauf, he has spent long summers in Italy. Many of his recent painting were inspired by Italy’s celebrated artistic heritage.
1. Barbara Haskell. The American Century: Art and Culture 1950-2000 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2000), 42.
2. Michael Goldberg, as quoted in Longari, “Some Instructions for the (Aesthetic) Use of the Work of Michael Goldberg” in Michael Goldberg: Goldberg Variations, 53.
3. Goldberg, as quoted in David Shapiro, “Conversations with Michael Goldberg” in Michael Goldberg: Goldberg Variations, 19.
4. Grace Glueck, “Michael Goldberg, 83, Abstract Expressionist, Is Dead” New York Times, January 4, 2008.