SAM GOODMAN: NO SCULPTURES / SHIT SHOW
GALLERY GERTRUDE STEIN | 24 East 81 Street | New York | May 12 to 30, 1964
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INTRODUCTION BY BORIS LURIE:
Late one night recently, early in the morning in fact, I stopped over at Sam Goodman's studio. I noticed he had been working on a sculpture which had been discarded in a corner of his studio. It came upon me at once that this was the sculpture that had to be done by someone at this particular time: expressed in artistic terms, it was the answer, in this spring of 1964 in this City of New York. This sculpture had to be done by Goodman only, nothing like it has ever been done before.
The artist, as if hopeless in the pursuit of a project so difficult, so full of explosive matter directed against its author himself, as well as the art-world around him, apparently had put the idea aside, in the realization of the hopelessness and dangers involved in its execution and presentation. I was blessed with an insight that permitted me to fathom the importance of that sculpture and to support and encourage the sculptor in the execution of his dangerous idea. I consider myself lucky indeed been given the opportunity played a minor part in this project.
I remember Goodman's work before, from the beginning of the historic exhibitions at the rebellious March Gallery that had been the first rallying call for a truly new social art, from the wealth of which a subsequent generation of artists nourished themselves. From burnt babies, dolls of our childhood, of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and dolls of the little Negro girls killed here in the USA, he had gone on to enrich our consciousness with an image of the useless and discarded people, mounted rags and discarded bundles. His Doom-Show constructions sat up a howl to exorcise nuclear holocaust, and his NO-sculptures now, -an ultimate gesture of aggressive manly despair plunged into our consciousness with the exactitude of the matador in the final kill.
When I was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during the war, Jewish prisoners drowned a fellow Jew in the accumulated excrements of the latrine for collaboration with the enemy. The price of collaboration in art, too, is excremental suffocation.
In 1962, the only courageous art dealer in the world, Arturo Schwarz of Milan, Italy, exhibited selections of the Lurie-Goodman shows held at the old March Gallery on East Tenth Street in New York. The selections included work from the Vulgar, Involvement, and Doom Shows, executed since 1957. I was astonished and surprised when Schwarz jubilantly picked a Goodman construction that had the beginnings of his present NO-sculptures within it, to be placed in the show window of his gallery. I remember Arturo Schwarz being as happy as a child to have thought of this idea, to have asserted his courage and independence, to have disregarded the reactions of the citizenry passing by his shop window. With this one gesture he expressed so many things all at once, he reversed so many acts we would like not to have ever suppressed, out of politeness, or out of fear.
But such acts, such gestures are rare indeed here. Where the formulation of art is in the hands of worn-out disillusioned aesthete-intellectuals and speculator-collectors greedy to pounce upon any acceptable novelty providing there is enough 'sophistication', titillation, chauvinism and a potential market for it, true art, invariably connected with true courage, has about as much of a chance as last year's art vogue much attraction as last year's ladies fashions. Instead of producing: courageous artists we produce 'courageous' aesthete-intellectuals who from the sanctuary of their news media or foundation-supported enclosures, are free to create new art movements or to harass and attack the independent artist, to destroy reputations in the perfect security of their sanctuary, and without any fear of being hit back or their secure positions being jeopardized.
The aesthete-intellectual has studied much art history, but he has learned very little. Nevertheless he feels he is in perfect command of the laws and regulations and varied ingredients that make up the quantity called art. His ear is finely attuned to the demands of the intellectual climate of the moment, and he is well aware of the economic implications that govern art-promoting and art-marketing. This knowledge and skill, the fruit of much study and a long personal presence in the art world is now put to use in the promulgation of a ‘new’ theory. Artists who might fit the theory are invited to join in the new grouping, others are persuaded to comply, and a search is instituted for innocent talent who somehow or other had managed to obtain information on the precise nature of the new trend. Our products are proudly paraded at the art world fair in Venice and at the World's Fair in New York, where coca-cola-pop-art melts into and becomes identical with the design and commercial art around it. What contrast between collaborationist-pop art and the bloodied heads of the civil rights demonstrators who dare say no.
Goodman’s NO-sculptures could not have come to us at a better moment and in a better place, in New York, in 1964. It is the answer on a social, aesthetic, and on a psychological level. But over and above, it is a masterpiece of heroism without which no great achievement in art is possible. Heroism implies a willingness on part of the hero to expose himself to risks and dangers. Goodman’s NO-sculptures are an assertion against fear, an assertion of strength in the face of submission, of energy in the face of castration, an assertion of the individual, who refuses to bend. These phrases, when not followed by deeds, sound old and outworn, and therefore meaningless: but the Holy Deed, the Fearless Act redeems them and gives them life and truth.
On an aesthetic level (if we should wish at all to meet this pseudo-science on its own grounds) Goodman’s work opens to re-examination the whole complex of the Paris New Realists and its American chauvinistic derivation and bastardization called Pop-art. It is a demand to reopen inquiry on the falsification of today’s art history, written before and during the time the works described are being created a demand to expose the propaganda-machine that has come into being in this post abstract-expressionist period.
Psychologically, our spotless Puritanism, our taboos, and perhaps the roots of all painting and sculpture are opened up to questioning. On a social level, besides many points brought out previously in this introduction, I would like to point to the coloring of Goodman's sculptures which range from ochres and browns to to metallic blacks and deep black. There are no lily-white No-sculptures in this show.
But, as we all know deep down, it is not by submission, coolness, remoteness, apathy and boredom that great art is created, no matter what the cynics might tell us. The secret ingredient of all art is what is most difficult to learn, it is courage.
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INTRODUCTION BY THOMAS B. HESS:
Sam Goodman and Boris Lurie are true Social Realists. Deeply involved with political and social issues, they have decided to work as citizen-artists to become Responsible, to move their studios-their art, their lives, their references-into the ideological arena. They turn the esthetic inside-out to discover its ethical viscera, ligaments, heart, dung.
Lurie with his grimed up Pin-up nudes (the erotics of the underprivileged), Goodman tinkering with mashed celluloid babies, spell out a choking rhetoric that is concerned with where we are going.
Like all artists they use the tools of art, but unlike the traditionally Left Social-Realists, they do not sneak Cold-War messages into smooth aspics of style of Style. Where a Guttuso or a Siqueiros or a Lorjou or a Refregier paint with accepted academic table-manners in order to make respectable some ideological anecdote, Goodman and Lurie have seized upon the latest idioms of New York School Action Painting. But where Rauschenberg, Kaprow or Oldenburg use the lace of garbage in formal, poetic ways, these two painters reject all transpositions and metamorphoses. They comment on the disgrace of society with the refugee material of society itself-fugitive materials for fugitives from our great disorders-our peripheral obscenities, our garbage, our repulsive factory-made waste-matter.
In a poor country, you cannot find chicken bone on the streets. Goodman and Lurie have decreed whole scatological Versailles from the 'built-in-obsolescences’ of American 'affluent society’ (n.b., these moralists could scavenge as profitably in London, Paris, Milan, Munich, Leningrad).
All modern art is Protest, in one way or another. Usually it is the protest of silence, negation, Satans cry-non serviam. Sometimes it is directly implied in difficulties of image or in savagery of gesture.
Goodman and Lurie do not imply; they protest directly. They brake up the relatively polite conversations in the parlor car by making a blind jump at the EMERGENCY STOP cord. With their art, with the vast human accumulations of art-history and esthetic thought, they have found ways to shout-to blurt the visual truth.
The irony of art, of course, always intervenes. If Goodman and Lurie were not fine painters, their blurts would be gibbers. And because they are artists they have bumped into beauty even where they are most horrified. Art always sneaks back to the studio-even when the artist has gotten rid of its walls and doors and has moved out into the street. Here Venus arises from a sea of shit.
In this ultimate twist of fatality (no wonder they named their exhibition in New York 'Doom') lies their ultimate metaphor. The shriek of doom also is a gay, wild testimonial to the Resurrection.
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SCULPT & LOCAL
Review by Tom Wolfe
Sam Goodman, the artist, is short, plump, shaggy, rumpled up, 45 and never too old for the life of Artist in Protest. He and his friend Boris Lurie have been working for the last seven years down on the Lower East Side in the general field of shocking the bourgeoisie and revolting against the establishment. And that is exactly the trouble in their lives. Shocking the bourgeoisie is getting tougher and tougher. They have gotten so they will take anything you throw at them in the name of Art, bent automobile fenders, old shower nozzles sticking out of canvas, anything, and just love it to death!
For example Boris and Sam put on something like their Vulgar Show a few years back, featuring mango-haunched babes with shanks akimbo ripped out of the flesh magazines, just to mention one of the mentionable things, and what happens? All the modern-day Babbitts who come around, mainly the art critics and other aesthete-intellectuals, as Boris calls them, just keep saying things like that's fine, Sam, that's fine Boris, keep it up, we are with you in the heroic struggle.
So all right, said Sam, let them try this one on for size. This one, their newest exhibition, which opened the other night at the Gertrude Stein Gallery in a very elegant townhouse at 24 E. 81st St. And so it came to pass that 75 years of Modern Art led at last with invincible logic to Goodman-Lurie seated on the floor of a gallery just off Madison Avenue amid 21 piles of sculpted mammal dung. Not designed to look vaguely like mammal dung, or more or less like mammal dung, or abstractly like mammal dung. They did not put it up on a pedestal. It lies flat on the floor, including one pile that weighs 500 pounds. They made it all look as exactly like mammal dung as 25 years spent in art in the tradition of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse would enable them to.
So Boris began sculpting dung-let them try that on for size. "I extrude it", Sam was saying. "I use, like, this cast stone. You know? I extrude it through like a pipe or something. Cast stone is like, I don't know, plaster of Paris. I extrude it through a pipe or something, I can't tell you exactly how because then they'll be all doing it."
Mr. Goodman's friends testify that he is a germinal thinker, and indeed has to worry about other artists stealing his ideas. He has a lot of important ideas.
A couple of years ago after the Vulgar Show, he and Boris put on a Doom Show, one of Sam's contributions being decapitated baby dolls burned up and imbedded in burned-up bed springs. A couple of months later, did one of the leading Pop-artists turn up with incinerated doll babies in her show? Exactly. For godsake, half the artists in town ere likely to be after the secret of sculpting dung if the critics embrace dung the way Boris says the people who come by the Gertrude Stein Gallery do.
These people are frustrating. They still won't come right out and be shocked. They, the culturati of the New York art world, look right at the mounds lying there on the floor and talk about them in terms of the usual, their mass, their tension, their thrust, their plastic ambience and so forth. Boris was outraged. "These people are so intimidated by the aesthetics of modern art and all this aesthetic double-talk," he said, "they are afraid to look at it as what it is, which is dung. They just want to look at it as sculpture. They come in here and touch it and talk about 'form'. I think they're too intimidated to express what they feel about a so-called work of art."
According to Boris' reasoning, their sculpted dung now has the critics backed into a corner. They have been embracing junk sculpture, "found" objects, old vulcanized tires on a pedestal, paintings of Campbell's soup cans and love comics. So if they are so all-embracing, let them embrace dung.
Miss Stein, who is not a third cousin of the Gertrude Stein the grand guru of America's expatriate writers in Paris in the 1920’s such as Hemingway, was saying how the critics, if they have an eye for history, should not find it hard to embrace the show at all. "Cast the NO! Sculptures in bronze" she was saying, "and you have the entire history of modern art summed up right there".
All this talk about acceptance and critical acclaim was beginning to worry Sam Goodman, however. He began looking around at the 21 mounds lying flat on the floor, and he was saying: "Yeah, but I don't know what I'm going to do for an encore. I figure I can either take a return trip and head back towards the womb or, I don't know, like forge ahead and put on a happening in which I commit suicide."