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April 28 - May 5, 2000

[Art Reviews]

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Private eye

A glimpse of Arthur Goldberg's fantasy life

by Leon Nigrosh

At the Danforth Museum of Art, 123 Union Avenue, Framingham, through June 4.

If it weren't for the Medici family's narcissism and lust for immortality, we may never have seen Michaelangelo's magnificent works. In Worcester, just over 100 years ago, private collector Stephen Salisbury III gathered 50 of his most prominent friends and constructed the first section of the Worcester Art Museum. But, as is the case with most private collectors, his personal art collection did not come to WAM until after he died in 1905. Even the private collection of WAM benefactors Robert and Helen Stoddard became a permanent part of the museum's holdings after Helen's passing in 1999.

Today, anonymous individuals and avaricious conglomerates sweep into the contemporary-art market and spirit new works away to some unknown sanctuary where the art is for the collector's eyes only. But every so often a collector such as Boston businessman Arthur S. Goldberg comes along and, realizing the joy he finds in his personal art collection, shares his pleasure with others. Goldberg has chosen to show a portion of his collection -- more than 50 drawings and paintings, along with a half-dozen sculptures -- in an exhibition currently showing at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham.

Goldberg's earliest art interest was in collecting American Impressionists. Yet during the 1980s, as he became more knowledgeable about the contemporary New England art scene, his attention turned to acquiring pieces by artists he knew. One of these works is Michael Mazur's narrative, six-foot-long pastel Running Man, a self-portrait of the artist jogging along Fresh Pond in Cambridge. He also purchased several drawings and paintings by Valley Realist Scott Prior, including a 1978 graphite-on-paper Desktop Still Life that features humorous figurines of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Goldberg continued to follow Prior's career; several years later he acquired his large-scale Motel Room, a painting of the artist's wife posing nude against the knotty-pine wall of a seaside motel. Here we see Prior's found his stride: the magical bending of light, which is now his trademark. He not only creates a scene refulgent with nuances of moody light, but also he is able to transmit that mood to the viewer.

Goldberg rarely stopped at the purchase of a single work by a particular artist. In 1990, he acquired Suzanne Vincent's self-portrait The Legend of St. Lucy, I Can Do It with My Eyes Shut; Goldberg was especially intrigued by the way her painting style harked back to the 16th-century Dutch masters who not only attempted faithful portraiture, but also used appropriate symbols (such as Vincent's heart-shaped pendant) to better describe the subject's persona. Goldberg later bought Vincent's luminous portrait of an androgynous teenager, Striped Pants, in which a brightly hued person floats over a sea of tiny palladium squares, in the tradition of Medieval and Renaissance artists.

In 1989, after attending a lecture on Surrealism, Goldberg shifted his emphasis and began to collect the work of artists involved with Expressionist fantasy and trompe l'oeil. Such fantasy is key to Gerry Bergstein's four-foot-tall My Funny Valentine. Thickly and brightly painted images of fruits and vegetables dissolve into little people and animals, eyeballs, and even a tiny human heart. Heavy white globs appear as cigarette butts that seem stuck in the gooey impasto. But it is the hole to the dark blue cosmos that forms the titled Valentine heart. In Morgan Bulkeley's fanciful E-Z Bird I. D. p. 2, accurate representations of New England birds are shown traipsing among the flowers, playfully pecking at castoffs like a baby pacifier, a nightlight, and an empty bottle of Rogaine. And it was at the Danforth, Goldberg first saw Emily Eveleth's luscious and lascivious doughnut painting of a three-foot-long Lemon Créme -- surely a calorie-counter's fantasy.

Among the Superrealist, pick it off the wall, illusionist painters that Goldberg has in his collection, Szeto Keung is the master with his acrylic-on-linen Old Brush. Even after we're told that it's just paint, and not really a curled up piece of canvas taped to corkboard with a well-worn brush nailed to it, we find it hard to believe it's not cork, tape, and an old paintbrush.

As you move through the galleries, you will certainly recognize the names of well-known area artists among the 44 represented, including Jon Imber, Randall Diehl, and Barbara Swan. Yet many of these people were just starting out when Goldberg first purchased their work. Through his perceptive vision and personal intuition, he has amassed a noteworthy collection that serves as a measure of the growth and maturity of contemporary fantasy and Realist art in New England in the past two decades.


The museum is open Wednesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. Call 620-0050.


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