This week I had the opportunity to check out the newest exhibition at Brennan and Griffin Gallery, Guy Goodwin: Recent Works. It’s one of those exhibitions you feel good about from the moment you enter the room. One thing I’ve noticed since I began living in New York is the incredible number of artists who have achieved fertile lives and success, but not renown. They lie just below the surface of the Who’s Who of popularized New York, like a sort of untouched natural resource, fecund and raw. Goodwin belongs to that class of 1960s and 1970s diehard artists who inhabited pre-yuppie downtown Manhattan and continue to create as if not much has changed, even though it did.
The artist is known for raucous abstractions that are both tongue-in-cheek and aggressively political. Goodwin participated in the lauded exhibition High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967–1975 at the National Academy Museum in 2007, which championed New York’s alternative painting scene during that Pop, Conceptual and Minimalism-obsessed period. From everything I have read and heard about the artist I imagine a smiling revolutionary, posing on a fire escape against the bombed-out horizon of the Bowery. My overactive imagination is probably not far off the mark. Goodwin’s history is both fascinating and important, at its heart is the soul of a now-transformed New York City. He is a member of the last generation of true Manhattan bohemians.
Unfortunately this image also presents a problem; while it’s important to historicize, doing so means you risk losing touch with the here and now. I was delighted, then, to see his current work on view at Brennan and Griffin; it looks so fresh it could have been painted by an artist closer to 30 than 71, which is Goodwin’s age.
The stark backgrounds of Goodwin’s cardboard paint boxes are inhabited by a buzzing variety of shapes. Their pillow surfaces have been manipulated into a number of wonky, pixelated forms. They seem to jostle and reverberate against one another, hanging in space. The result is a kind of soft-edged abstraction that staggers us with the drama of color. The shade and tones have been assiduously selected. I am reminded of Clyfford Still and a number of modernist painters before him.
Invoking those names feels like a terrible art-writer cliché, but the work does warrant the historical reference. The pieces feel downright down to earth. The staples, bolts and rough-edged corners of each piece form a welcome disruption in the charming but vibrant surfaces. They pull the viewer back into the room. R.C. Baker, describing the exhibition in The Village Voice, evokes a downtown scene of “threadbare sofas and diner booths jammed with urban guerrillas hashing out radical theories.” I think anyone who sees the show will smile and agree with this picture.
It is to the credit of the gallery and the artist that the works in this exhibition speak to the fractiousness and temporality of the digital age. Goodwin’s forms seem to come from flash animation, video games or circuitry. They render, with the most basic of materials, a poem to the complex structures of information we must all now navigate on a day-to-day basis.
Guy Goodwin: Recent Works continues at Brennan and Griffin (55 Delancey Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through April 8.