Since Marcel Duchamp’s invention of the readymade, the notion that commonplace objects can be transformed into objects of fine art has become ubitiquous. New York-based artist Charles Goldman often starts with the mundane but then subjects both his materials and himself to a rigid set of self-imposed guidelines. Goldman invents these admittedly arbitrary parameters as a way of creating order and of attempting to systematize the unsystematic. Inherent in Goldman’s practice is a fusion of art and life. In the electronic exchange of information that preceded the artist’s current exhibition Between Days at Traywick Gallery, Goldman sent Katrina Traywick the following revelatory message, “Often, but not always, when I see a rubber band on the ground I turn it into an infinity sign. And then I leave it there, walking on.” These little “public sculptures,” one of which is featured on the invitation card announcing the exhibition, emblematize Goldman’s approach. He notices the discarded, transforms it through a semiotic subversion, and finally walks away from it with the faith that someone else may notice and comprehend.
Goldman is originally from the Bay Area. The subtle yet satirical humor found in the work of Bay Area conceptualists such Tom Marioni, David Ireland, and Paul Kos is also apparent in Goldman’s work. Goldman’s objects are deceptively minimal, mischievously abstract. When humorous, their humor is transparent yet rewarding. The meaning is oddly universal, monumentalizing fleeting thoughts. Goldman’s sculpture One Inch Too Big is a site-specific piece with infinite applications. Comprised of a length of 1/2-inch in diameter solid, stainless steel, it is one inch longer than the height of the room in which it is installed. The extra inch provides a graceful bow to the steel rod as it is positioned between the floor and the ceiling. As Goldman explained, “It fits yet it does not fit, allowing for an alternative to plumb and level.“ An everyman’s philosophy can be found in Goldman’s work—-practical and astute. Here, just because something is not an exact fit does not mean that it will not work. In fact, Goldman knows that perfection is imperfection and vice versa and that both really exist only as words.
As with life in general, nothing in Goldman’s work is as simple as it seems. The titles reveal the laborious effort that went into the fabrication of each work. His Distance Paintings are created with three silk-screens, each of which includes a line that is one foot long by one and a half inches wide. One is a straight line, one is a quarter of a circle, and one is a half of a circle. Goldman systematically prints each in sequence and calculates the length of the line he creates. The resulting paintings, which appear to be curvilinear, duochromatic abstractions, actually document the distance noted in the title: for example, twenty-four feet. As the distance recorded is much greater then the surface area of the paintings, the forms repeatedly tread upon one another. In attempting to unravel the path the lines create, the viewer may discern an inherent futility and recognize that despite the changing locale achieved through physical travel, interior space remains constant. Or--stated another way--wherever you go, there you are. Though primarily a sculptor, Goldman includes one work from a second series of paintings in Between Days. The Full Can paintings are exactly what their titles suggest: paintings made from the entire contents of one can of spray paint, either emptied onto a found surface or applied site-specifically. They are a sort of insider’s art joke: a conceptual artist’s response to graffiti and Mark Rothko rolled into one.
Concern for space and material has remained constant in the development of Goldman’s work. He has always opted for the real over the constructed, the actual over the imagined, and fact over fiction. He creates as an act of navigating reality, using whatever materials he has on hand and responding to the place where he happens to be. His creative spirit lies in his personal ritual. In his work, anyone can see the value in believing that someone will notice and comprehend whatever it is that is most important to us all.
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive