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.