Art Review

Review: Neil Goodman Retrospective Gets Back to Basics

Neil Goodman’s “Still Life with Fish” (foreground) and “Triptych” (background), bronze.
Neil Goodman’s “Still Life with Fish” (foreground) and “Triptych” (background), bronze. Heather Longway
While the name of the Museum of Outdoor Arts strongly suggests that it's an institution that exclusively presents exhibits outside, such as the Robert Mangold show that’s part of MOA’s Sculpture on the Green series in Greenwood Village, it also maintains a nice set of indoor galleries at its home base on the second floor of the Englewood Civic Center. Both the outdoor and indoor programming components have been brought together for Close Proximately: A Retrospective of Sculpture by Neil Goodman.

Inside is a full-blown survey of the work of Chicago sculptor Neil Goodman that's basically, though not strictly, chronological. The pieces from the 1980s are vertical structures made of cast and welded bronze with horizontal shelves or levels on which vaguely representational forms have been placed. The stunning “Cage” has a decidedly Giacometti-ish vibe — not related to Giacometti's famous attenuated figures, but to his lesser-known, early surrealist work. In these Goodman sculptures, within an overall geometry of bars, conventionalized objects sit on diagonal shelves, including a bust resembling Queen Nefertiti; the angled shelves suggest a compressed perspective. “Triptych” is much flatter, essentially a three-part screen mostly made up of voids, with the sculpture serving as something of a three-dimensional drawing in space.

Beginning in the 1990s and into the 2000s, Goodman increasingly dispensed with the constraints of the frame-like structures. He received major commissions for wall sculptures, such as the one at the Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, in which the broadly representational elements that had formerly been perched on shelves or bars were freed, and instead scattered across the wall on which they were directly mounted. At MOA, “Subjects and Objects” represents this kind of work. Cast elements, most of which suggest simplified drafting tools, along with a hyperrealist rendition of a sea creature and some other things, have been hung on the wall in an asymmetrical balance; the piece has a lighter feeling than earlier works, with most of the overall composition nothing more than bare wall. Since Goodman likes to work in bronze, which is super-expensive, these aggregated pieces that incorporated the space between elements allowed him to work monumentally without it becoming cost-prohibitive.

click to enlarge Installation view of Neil Goodman’s “Columns” (foreground) and “Biography” (background), bronze. - HEATHER LONGWAY
Installation view of Neil Goodman’s “Columns” (foreground) and “Biography” (background), bronze.
Heather Longway
Though Goodman has not abandoned doing wall pieces, the newer ones are different conceptually. Among the most complex are “Eclipse” and the related though more ambitious “Biography.” In these works, bronze elements are linked in the manner of chainmail, with the entire arrangements of forms mounted on brackets on the wall. They're sensational, particularly “Biography."

Goodman has also continued doing freestanding pieces, including the “Shadows and Echoes” series of silhouette shapes, which are either linear or planar; the most extensive collection of these is in a sculpture garden specially created to display them at the University of Indiana Northwest. There are many freestanding sculptures included in the gallery portion of the MOA show — don’t miss the ones in the back gallery, whose stands mirror the shapes of the sculptures — along with a group of the monumental ones in Westlands Park.

click to enlarge Neil Goodman’s sculptures at Westlands Park (left to right): “Wind,” “Reach” and “Rudder,” fiberglass. - HEATHER LONGWAY
Neil Goodman’s sculptures at Westlands Park (left to right): “Wind,” “Reach” and “Rudder,” fiberglass.
Heather Longway
Both indoors and outdoors, the freestanding works reveal Goodman’s interest in creating playful formal relationships. In the park, the monumental “Rudder” is made up of two identical halves; a reverse outline of its contours is used as the shape of the cut-out that runs across the center of "Reach," set on a nearby rise. Unlike Goodman’s pedestal-sized sculptures, which are made of bronze, these large outdoor pieces are made of fiberglass mounted over armatures. Interestingly, the visual feeling Goodman produces with the bronzes is very close in character to what he conveys with the fiberglass ones.

This impressive exhibit reveals that while Goodman has relentlessly experimented with his formal vocabulary, going from formalism to minimalism over the course of his long career, he's remained true to his original vision.

Close Proximately runs through November 17 at the MOA, located at 1000 Englewood Parkway, Englewood. The outdoor portion of the show continues through August 2019 in Westlands Park, northwest of the intersection of Orchard Road and South Quebec Street in Greenwood Village. Call 303-806-0444 or go to for hours and additional information.
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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia