Friday, November 27, 2015

Rewind and Reflect: John Goodyear

By Carl Belz

John Goodyear, Up and Down Movement, 1966, 24 x 24 x 4 inches (Berry Campbell Gallery, New York).

[Author's Note: I wrote the following text for a John Goodyear exhibition at David Hall Fine Art, Wellesley, MA in 2012. It is reprinted here in conjunction with the exhibition, John Goodyear, Perspectives/Six Decades, at the Berry Campbell Gallery, 530 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011, Nov. 25, 2015 - January 2, 2016.]

The 1963­-64 academic year was for me eventful, even memorable. Fresh out of graduate school with my PhD, I started my first teaching job, at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. I taught a seminar on Marcel Duchamp that fall, and later that year I was able to interview him in New York while we sat across from one another at a chessboard with pieces designed by Man Ray, who had been the subject of my doctoral dissertation. I also met and talked with celebrated vanguardist John Cage when he was invited to campus for a performance, an uncanny experience that felt, on the heels of Duchamp, as though it was destined by chance, like one of those encounters celebrated in the Dada and Surrealist handbooks I’d been studying in connection with my thesis. Then, too, I met Bob Dylan, backstage before the spring concert he delivered in the packed UMass field house where he sang Mr. Tambourine Man, which he hadn’t even recorded yet, but which we all recognized as a tour de force, totally magical, surrealist­-type poem if ever there was one. And last yet at the same time foremost in this litany of personal encounters – foremost, because it bore abiding rather than ephemeral significance – I met John Goodyear, artist and art department colleague, who knew, as I would soon come to know, more than a little about Cage’s chance and Duchamp’s ambiguity and, as much as anything else, the poetics of everyday experience.

The art department at UMass comprised three art historians and six artists, a personnel roster that was totally new to me. At Princeton, where I’d earned both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, the Department of Art and Archaeology comprised only art historians. An artist­-in-residence position had been created in the mid­-1950s, presumably to acknowledge studio practice, but the appointment was mostly honorific, requiring the artist to teach only two pass/fail courses a year, neither of which was required in the departmental curriculum. Art making in Princeton’s ivory tower, in other words, had largely to be imagined, like a virtual reality. At UMass, by comparison, I was interacting with practicing artists on a regular basis, and I responded to them with natural interest and enthusiasm, I felt at home in their community. In particular, I responded to John Goodyear, whose work hovered somewhere between painting and sculpture, possessed moving parts that invited viewer participation, and yielded optical sensations that were refreshingly new to my pictorial experience, while in the process additionally radiating a rich spectrum of ideas. So John and I began interacting and talking about his art, I watched his progress in the studio, I tracked his thought, and I got inspired to write and have published an essay about what he was doing – my first essay about an artist making art in the here and now. Though trained in the scholarly methodologies of art history, I found via my John Goodyear experience an abiding passion for working directly with living artists in and of our time.
John Goodyear, Blue and Brown Kinetic Construction, 1964, acrylic on wood and canvas, 24 x 24 x 5 inches (Berry Campbell Gallery, New York).
The optic­-kinetic constructions John Goodyear was making in the mid-­1960s registered quickly on the contemporary art radar screen. In 1965 alone his work was included in The Responsive Eye at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Art in Science at the Albany Institute of History and Art, and Kinetic and Optic Art Today at the Albright-­Knox Gallery in Buffalo. With visual dazzle on the one hand and technological know­-how on the other, Op and Kinetic exhibitions promised ever­-expanding horizons for artistic expression, while in the discourse surrounding them – in images, for instance, of research teams at work, not in studios but in laboratories – impersonal objectivity hovered as a guarantee of the new art’s authenticity. And thus was rehearsed a periodically recurring theme in 20th Century art, namely, its urge to secure credibility by grafting onto itself the methods and procedures and look of science. But science was neither the source nor the goal for Goodyear’s art, nor was credibility ever an issue, not then, and not now. His kinetic effects, for one, required no technology to speak of, just the touch of a finger, the tilt of a head, even a casual walk-­by; while, secondly, whatever the resulting visual dazzle, it was just a prelude to the meditations that followed – about how and where real and virtual space connect, about images coming and going and being at once here and there, about paradox and ambiguity, about chance, about indeterminacy. If there was a model for such an art, its locus was not in the lab but in and around the ways of Cage or Duchamp.
John Goodyear, Red, Yellow, Blue Construction, 1978, acrylic on wood and canvas, 28 3/4 x 29 1/4 x 6 inches.
It goes without saying that John Goodyear’s art possesses a way of its own, a way I would describe as modest and unassuming, a way accessible in regularly referencing everyday experience, a way gently prodding thought while also being quietly informed by humor, a way generous in the openness and ease of its invitation to participate in its sensory and cerebral pleasures – as easy and accessible and natural, for instance, as looking out a third-­floor window and all at once seeing the art in the tiled plaza you walked across but unknowingly missed because you were preoccupied with the quotidian business of meeting your appointment at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Piscataway, New Jersey. John Goodyear’s way not so much makes art as allows art to happen, as if art were somehow there all along, as if latent, awaiting activation. Within the rhythm of this way, art experience and lived experience intersect and are continuous with one another by virtue of constantly informing one another. Within their interaction, at the same time, they are not the same, not interchangeable, for the identity of each – its viability in doing what it does and meaning what it means – is ever grounded in an acknowledgment of the separateness of the other, a separateness in which they are finally bound. Such, for me, is the way of John Goodyear’s art.

John Goodyear, Food for Thought, 2011, acrylic on wood and canvas, 96 x 39 x 6 inches.
John Goodyear, The Indicative, 2013, acrylic on wood and canvas, 24 x 27 x 2 1/2 inches (Berry Campbell Gallery, New York).
John Goodyear, Women of Art, 2014, acrylic on wood and canvas, 72 x 36 x 3 inches (Berry Campbell Gallery, New York).
John Goodyear, Figurative Abstraction, 2015, acrylic on wood and canvas, 36 x 36 x 6 inches (Berry Campbell Gallery, New York).

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