Featured Acquisition: Michael Goldberg, “Untitled, 1958”

Michael Goldberg (1924-2007)

Untitled, 1958

Oil on paper mounted on canvas

15.5 x 22 inches

18.25 x 25 inches framed


Private collection, Milton, PA

Michael Goldberg , a second generation Abstract Expressionist painter known for his action-packed, gestural canvases, went through several phases that included monochromatic works of red and then black, bands of white on black, calligraphic images and bright bands of color hinting of architectural forms.  Ever aligned with Abstract Expressionism which he described in 2001 as “still the primary visual challenge of our time”, he later shrugged off the designation saying “labels come and go”. (Glueck)

He was also an art educator who taught at the University of California, Berkeley from 1961 to 1962; Yale University in 1967; and the University of Minnesota in 1968.  He and his artist wife, Lynn Umlauf, both taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York city.

Goldberg was born in 1924 in the Bronx of New York City.  His studies at the Art Students League, 1938-1942, were interrupted by World War II where he served as a paratrooper in North Africa and Burma, making eighty jumps behind Japanese lines.

Returning to New York, he studied with Jose de Creeft and Hans Hofmann, and Hoffman remained a strong influence.  He was also influenced by Roberto Matta and Arshile Gorky, but it was Willem de Kooning, and his use of fiery brush-work and explosive color, who would prove to be Goldberg’s greatest influence.  Beginning 1980, he spent five months of each year in Tuscany, Italy on an estate near Siena.  In his studio there, he created many of his signature paintings done with oil sticks pressed directly onto canvas.  He described these as quasi grids, “patchy squares of color intersected at random by strong diagonals.” (Glueck)

Goldberg participated in the dealer Leo Castelli’s ground- breaking Ninth Street Show in 1951, which included works by Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell; “he seemed to embody the attitudes shared by the artists of that group,” said Richard Kalina of Goldberg (“Michael Goldberg 1924–2007.” Art in America, March 2008). Two years later Goldberg received his first solo show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery. In 1955, Goldberg befriended fellow Abstract Expressionist painter Norman Bluhm, which proved to be a fateful meeting. In 1956, Bluhm brought art collector Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. to Goldberg’s studio, and Chrysler purchased 17 of his paintings. With new interest in his work, Goldberg caught the eye of art dealer Martha Jackson and was soon represented by her gallery.

“Art comes out of art, and in most instances doesn’t spring full blown from the head of Zeus,” the artist once explained. Critic Clement Greenberg agreed; when asked about the label of Second Generation he replied, “I think that’s a dead issue.”

Throughout the 1950s and into the 60s, Goldberg maintained his connection with the Abstract Expressionist painters and was a regular at the Cedar Tavern, known as a meeting place for avant-garde artists. During the 1950s, Goldberg occupied a studio next to that of de Kooning and Resnick and in 1962, he acquired Mark Rothko’s studio at 222 Bowery, where he worked for the rest of his life.

The strong sense of gesture in Two Blues, painted in 1960, characterized by paint sprays and obvious brushwork, relates to Goldberg’s overall body of work, but the cool palette sets it apart from other works. The painting investigates color as well as space and physicality. Goldberg provides the sense of the painting as an object, by building up paint on the paper (his media of choice during the period) and using a palette brush to create texture. This painting appears almost constructed rather than painted and the gestural white brushwork stands out amidst Goldberg’s emotional blues and browns.

While Goldberg experimented with various techniques throughout his career, he remained dedicated to abstract painting. “For me, the concept of abstract painting is still the primary visual challenge of our time,” he said in a 2001 statement. “It might get harder and harder to make an abstract image that’s believable, but I think that just makes the challenge greater.”

Goldberg died on December 30, 2007 while working in his studio in the Bowery in New York City.  His studio was one he took over from Mark Rothko in the 1950s.

In total, Goldberg had 99 solo exhibitions since his first show at Tibor de Nagy in 1953. His work is in numerous private and public collections, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Sources include Grace Glueck,  “Michael Goldberg, 83, Abstract Expressionist”; The New York Times, Obituaries, Friday, January 4, 2008, A21; Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art