Kathy Goodell: Infra-Loop – Selections, 1994-2020
Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New Paltz, NY
February 6 through July 11, 2021
By ROBERT R. SHANE, June 2021
Although we encounter in Kathy Goodell’s abstract paintings and sculptures elements of West Coast spirituality (the artist was born and began her art career in San Francisco) and references to the formalism of East Coast abstraction (she moved to New York in the 1980s), Goodell’s work compels us to neither transcend nor stay on the surface, but to go below, as the infra- in her exhibition’s title Infra-Loop suggests. Simultaneously investigating modernist painting and Arte Povera, as well the languages, maps, and signs that drive us to shape materials, Goodell goes below not as an archaeologist—for her work does not study an inert past—but as a quantum alchemist uncovering and creating impossible temporal and spatial relationships, both revealing and setting into motion structures that endlessly loop across space and time.
Works like Pompeii Blues (2018) bend the singular trajectory of linear time back onto itself to form a loop. The paper’s tattered edges make it appear like an ancient artifact, but as we enter its passages of magenta and blue ink and acrylic emulsion swirling like blood, mixing in a union of violet, we are brought into a violent Eros that reveals a past very much alive and punctuated by fiery orange. Hanging next to it, Ancient Histories (2020) displays a bright lavender light and eruptions of Alizarin crimson impasto. Blue vertical and horizontal structures act as a temporary scaffold in this unstable world before branching off like fragments of pictograms, recalling an archaic time.
If Pompeii Blues and Ancient Histories bend timelines so that past and present enter into a circular rhythm, Goodell’s Phantasmagorique series of enamels, acrylics, oil, and wax on paper performs a similar acrobatics of space. In Phantasmagorique #15 (2015) purple washes and stippling make the vertically-oriented oval in which they are contained appear like a slide of human cells seen under a microscope; but the work’s gaseous green forms marked by fluorescent orange constellations instantly transport us to galaxies far from here. This simultaneous contrast of space too large and too small for human comprehension is heightened in Mesmer Eyes (2012) in which the same vertical oval shapes seen in the Phatasmagorique series are reduced to the size of thumbprints, cut out from Yupo, and mounted on the wall so that the aggregate of over 10,000 tiny galaxies forms a mural-sized grid threatening to overwhelm the spectator.
Fragments of Mesmer Eyes reflect on the surface of Sounding (2007), a nearby stack of over 40 square glass plates each separated from the next by half-inch wood supports in its corners. An opaque film brushed on each one leaves the negative shape of a circle, so that by looking down into the work we find ourselves staring into a murky green cenote the depth of which becomes immeasurable after the first dozen layers. Paradoxically, by crouching down and looking at the side of the cubic sculpture, we see straight through to the walls of the gallery. Was the deep water seen from overhead merely an illusion? Or, more likely, from above had we encountered one reality and from the side we witness alternate realities or timelines—all just as real and illusory as our experience of Goodell’s cenote or of a photograph—each frozen into a separate pane of glass?
Time is neither frozen nor circular in Conjunctio (1994) but bends along the two tubular arcs of steel suspended from the ceiling by nearly invisible wires so that they seem to hover inches above the floor and each other. Tied in place by thread and glass beads, small rectangles of glass like microscope slides hang evenly spaced like rungs from the two structures. Conjunctio becomes two crossing arks traveling through space carrying empty archives of glass negatives whose information has now been replaced with the inorganic, crystalline growth of salt over their rusting structures. Rust: an oxidation reaction as destructive as the fires of Pompeii referenced earlier in the exhibition but burning on temporal scale we cannot perceive.
The relationships between spaces and times in Infra-Loop reach their apogee in three recent canvases in the final room of the exhibition. Formerly on stretchers, they have been removed, flattened. Now their edges exist on the same plane as the pictorial space, and they are framed behind glass like artifacts. In the center piece, In a Land Where We Never Grow Old (2020), creases replay the folding and unfolding of the canvas into quadrants, squares, latitudinal and longitudinal lines. They form a weathered grid below Goodell’s ashen forms, topographical or like glyphs painted in liquid graphite and Flashe. Goodell is a cartographer of time.
Glyphs, this time painted in phosphorescent green, also appear on the interior walls of Bandaloop (2014), an enclosed room illuminated by blacklights. Because of COVID-19 protocols, we do not enter and close ourselves in as we would have in one Bandaloop’s earlier iterations. Instead, as we move around this free-standing white cube, we glimpse inside through a series of peepholes penetrating its outer walls, encountering a new perspective each time we look in. Working to piece together these views, each distorted through a fisheye lens, we are unable synthesize these fragments into a unified vision, and instead, like the works themselves in in this exhibition, we find ourselves in an endless orbit—moving, searching, looping. WM
Robert R. Shane is a critic and curator and received his PhD in art history and criticism from Stony Brook University.view all articles from this author