Joe Goode at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Joe Goode, who was born in Oklahoma City towards the end of the great depression has played a role in art history as a Los Angeles painter, adjacent to, but somewhat outside of the Ferus Gallery school, which defined the city’s turn towards a major art center in the 1960s. Revising this narrative is the goal of Jeffrey Uslip’s first major exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Uslip, himself a recent transplant from Los Angeles where he was curator of the Santa Monica Museum of Art, sought to re-situate Goode’s work within the big skies of the American midwest. Goode’s work, as the exhibition makes beautifully evident, is a poignant mediation on post-war America. Tightly edited, Uslip made concise, meaningful choices about the work he included. Not intended to encompass Goode’s prolific career, the works, generally one series for each decade, allow us to mediate on the depth and haunting understated qualities of each piece.

 

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

 

The exhibition opens with three of Goode’s House Paintings (1963). After marking off a small section in the center of the canvas, Goode created a metallic gray color field, afterwards adding in architectural details of the house. Hovering between Warhol’s Gold Marilyn and Robert Smithson’s meditations on suburban New Jersey, the works read equally as alienated from the miles of new housing tracts in Los Angeles and the isolated farmhouse of the midwest. Vulnerable and lacking any signs of life, the house, the home, could be a lone survivor of atomic warfare or launched into the gray clouds of  a tornado.

From the House Paintings, Goode created the work for which he is perhaps best known. Goode’s “paintings of common objects” among which are his signature Milk Bottle paintings expand the work beyond the picture plane, sharing territory Robert Rauschenberg’s combines or Jasper John’s work in assemblage form the same time. Milk, a product of the american midwest has been commercialized, displaced, repackaged into an anonymous bottle, delivered thousands of miles away from its source. Although only one milk bottle painting is shown, Purple (1961), the painting’s bold, almost garish color contrast with the expected quiet translucence of the glass bottle and it’s creamy white contents. Uslip points to the inclusion of a similar Milk Bottle painting in Walter Hopp’s seminal New Paintings of Common Objects exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1962. Framed within the context of Ed Ruscha, Jim Dine, Roy Lichetnstein and Andy Warhol, the Milk Bottle was forever canonized within a type of west-coast pop.

 

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

 

Goode’s painted wooden objects similarly have been victims of misrepresentation in the past. Akin to Robert Gober’s quietly disturbing doors that do not open and sinks without plumbing, Goode’s white wooden staircase against the gallery wall is dysfunctionally eloquent.

Taking advantage of CAM’s natural light and open windows, the Cloud Paintings, direct connection to the expansive blue skies of the midwest needed no further explanation.  Layering one canvas over another, then searing the second to reveal a similarly painted blue sky with white clouds underneath boldly professed to the injured american dream. What did it mean to grow up through the Great Depression and WWII, and emerge from the other side in utopian California only to find a similarly dysfunctional suburbia and a nation entrenched in Vietnam. Goode’s emotion is not the angst of the modernists, he is not expressing his individual alienation. This alienation is not a single voice, but a collective commentary on his own place in society and the larger societal status quo.

The depth of these paintings–one can pass through the outer canvas into the rear–is continued in Goode’s Environmental Impact series of the early 1980s in which he shoots through the painted canvases  to create violent disruptions. This three dimensionality is also under emphasized in Goode’s practice. From the initial Milk Bottle works, Goode’s practice is neither painting nor sculpture, nor combine. They are not specific objects nor suggestive gestures. They are musings, actions resulting from the complexities of the post-war Zeitgesit. His most recent work, which returns to the blue color fields of the sky paintings are panels of honeycombed fiberglass which are then damaged, sawed through, again disrupting the Rothko-like sublime of the painted panels and revealing their texture.

 

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

 

To cement his thesis in re-casting Goode as a midwestern artist, Uslip closes with Goode’s Tornado Triptych. In three panels, Goode illustrates moments of encountering the quintessential midwest disaster. The flattest work in the exhibition, the monumental paintings could be read as suggesting the dustbowl conditions into which Goode would have grown up, of the unstoppable power of forces larger than us. He did with the houses, milk bottles and clouds, Goode is not afraid to give the sublime form. He work offers a recognizable object as a vessel into which he can pour the complex pogniancies–emotions which cannot be named, commentary directed at no one in particular. Goode’s sublime is a terrifying one, but one that is demystified, palpable as the milk in an Alta Dena bottle.

Joe Goode, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, St. Louis, MO through April 12, 2015

 

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

Joe Goode, installation view, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, January 16–April 11, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.

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  1. November 20, 2017 at 3:39 am

    […] Review: Joe Goode […]

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by Mary Coyne
in Focus on the Midwest

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