Neil Goodman: “Twists and Turns”

Carl Hammer Gallery


Perspective and perception, like many things in life, can change dramatically by taking just a few small steps. An enveloping sense of a parallel world descends upon one when entering “Twists and Turns” at Carl Hammer Gallery. Crossing the threshold, leave the whirlwind of Wells Street behind and enter an oasis populated by nine of Neil Goodman’s bronze sculptures from the past three years.

It’s required here to forget the busy Chicago scene outside, slow down and come to terms with a new, minimalist strangeness where everything must be observed and contemplated from all angles. It’s like a detective story with a dark patina; you really can’t just take anything at face value here. You have to search all around. Still, there are no definitive conclusions, only different views of the multiplicity in a hall of mirrors.

There’s a feeling of jet lag and culture shock that goes with being in a place with no glitter or flash. The “one-liner” is an extinct artifact at Carl Hammer’s, a place that never imbibed pop art. Instead of “Zap-Pow-Bam,” we have quiet mysteries in somber tones. Take a breath, spend some time and ponder.

The exhibition includes 7 approximately human-scale, free standing, vertical bronzes and two smaller, horizontal bronzes on pedestals.  With the vertical pieces, Goodman has taken a basic “U” shape and repeated, inverted, conjoined and rearranged them in a number of ways with small but significant variations. There is a linear game going on with the interplay of repetitive movements and shapes that puzzles the eye.

Goodman has been known for works consisting of many cast components that are carefully arranged on walls. The works in “Twists and Turns” are one-piece ponies and the only arrangement necessary is when considering where to place them in the room.

The vertical pieces could be perceived as anthropomorphic abstractions of walking or dancing figures.  Six of the vertical pieces are three-pointed. Twist joins elongated “U” shapes into a tightly coiled snake-like form that twists and pirouettes. The “heads and feet” are flat and shaped slightly like gingko leaves.

Razor’s Edge, For Somerset Maugham presents tight undulating waves with blade-like protrusions at top and bottom. It’s much thinner than Cabal, which is also three-pointed but offers more ample and elongated circular negative spaces and points that could be head and shoulder profiles, with cone heads like silhouettes of Zippy the Pinhead.

Goodman’s sculptures in “Twists and Turns” don’t have definitive fronts or backs; one must view them from all sides like a cubist circus carousel. While each viewpoint has subtle differences, the play of positive and negative space gives the works the appearance of added volume and depth.  Lines are used to give the impression of form.

Goodman mentions Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) as a major influence. Both artists present thin, vertical walking figures. Like Giacometti, Goodman’s work shows a plentiful trail of evidence of labor-intensive hand finishing of the castings and a dark patina that adds a primitive and tribal feel. His work also brings to mind David Smith (1906-1965) and Stuart Davis (1892-1964).

Perhaps Goodman’s figures would not be too out of place in an Yves Tanguy picture (1900-1955). One difference from these earlier artists is that Goodman’s work presents more complex arrangements when observed in the round, largely due to being able to see through the negative spaces.

Looking at Goodman’s bronzes, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a simple shape has been copied and arranged in ways that appear to multiply the actual complexity and heft, and those shapes also function as linear, calligraphic elements that imply constant motion. There’s a feeling of being on a surrealist stage set.

Turn is six-pointed and has a more complex feel than the three-pointed vertical figures. There’s a resemblance to bobby pins or tweezers and a feeling of seeing double. Turn seems to imply motion with the carousel going round faster and faster.

The two horizontal pieces, Twilight 1 and Twilight 2, function conceptually as landscapes. They riff on variations of a basic horizontal trapezoid and maximize the synergy of positive and negative spaces. This kind of abstraction is quieter and cooler than the alcohol-fueled, emotionally wild doings of 1950’s Abstract Expressionism.

 The skies were overcast and there were no shadows on the two days that I visited “Twists and Turns.” It would be interesting to see the shadowplay that Mr. Goodman’s characters and landscapes cast upon the walls on a day with the sun beaming through the windows.

At this point in the game, Goodman is a branded and established sculptor who has reached an advanced level of art and craft. There are no big career-changing surprises expected. Mr. Goodman definitely has what it takes to show us what he’s got.


Bruce Thorn is a Chicago based painter and musician. He has degrees in painting and drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a Contributing Editor to the New Art Examiner.

Neil Goodman, Twist, 2015-2017,
cast bronze. Photo courtesy of
Carl Hammer Gallery

Neil Goodman, Cabal, 2015-2017,
cast bronze. Photo courtesy of
Carl Hammer Gallery

Neil Goodman, Twilight I, 2015-2017, cast bronze. Photo courtesy of
Carl Hammer Gallery


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