Excerpt from Wall Reliefs by Joe Goode by Julie Joyce
It seems every image I have used since completing school has to do with seeing through something, whether it is glass, water, skies, fires, trees...everything. What I am doing is projecting a way of seeing, essentially the same way through a different avenue, through a different image, in a way you don't normally see.
“Wall Reliefs by Joe Goode” featured a group of five sculptures designed and produced specifically for the main gallery at Pomona College. The Staircases (as this series of works was called) were indeed as named—replicas of actual staircases, positioned in profile and sunken into the wall at varying depths. Integral to the installation were colors and shadows cast through the strategic positioning of ceiling lights colored with filters—blue, red, yellow—that bathed these objects in variations of purples and oranges. Goode’s installation exists now primarily as anecdote or hearsay: vibrant for the viewer who had the good fortune of experiencing it, yet vanishing almost as quickly as it appeared. The artist hasn’t elaborated much on this series or this particular exhibition, at least in comparison to his other works. And their appearance in print is most often just as fleeting; they are discussed by Helene Winer in the modest exhibition catalog that accompanied his Pomona exhibition, but they appear briefly or not at all in other publications. Enhancing their elusiveness is the fact that only three of the sculptures reportedly still exist. However, this installation has a lasting significance, not only for the artist and the program at Pomona, but also in the exploration and expansion of art in Southern California.
Goode began working on the Staircases in 1964. Prior to the Pomona show, he exhibited a group of them in a 1966 solo exhibition at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles. In this earlier manifestation, they projected from the wall to meet the viewer frontally, in contrast to the Wall Reliefs at Pomona, which were experienced primarily from their sides, where they existed “on the same plane” as the wall. This was an important distinction for Goode, who, then early in his career, was embarking on what was to become a life-long exploration of the physical and phenomenological aspects of spatial relationships. Other than the Staircases, he primarily explored these issues via conventional two-dimensional formats: painting, drawing, and collage. Thus, a large part of what distinguishes the Staircases from the rest of the artist’s oeuvre is the fact that they extended into the actual third dimension.
Goode’s Staircases were preceded by his Milk Bottle series (1961–62)—large monochrome paintings juxtaposed with an actual milk bottle painted the same color and positioned on the floor in front of the canvas. Goode recently recalled, “The idea to do stairs was from the same idea that inspired the Milk Bottle paintings.” Upon arriving home at the small dwelling in Highland Park that the artist shared with his first wife and new baby, he would often find a glass milk bottle sitting on the steps near the door. Goode’s fascination with the way the bottle “floated in space” was a part of the inspiration for these paintings, as was the way he could utilize this phenomenon toward the portrayal of expanding space, in this case by using the floor to reach beyond the canvas. The artist’s House paintings (1963)—reductive renderings of typical California bungalows on a monochromatic background—synthesized Goode’s use of the quotidian with his interest in metaphysical space. Goode explains: “If a house is typical enough, you always have an idea about what’s inside. ...It was the idea of intellectual transparency that fascinated me." In the Window paintings, begun at the same time as the Staircases, Goode depicted a view of the sky through a window, and overlaid that with a sheet of transparent Plexi. This deceptively simple device acted to disrupt the view out the window while simultaneously reflecting the viewer’s space, thus taking his explorations of space even further.
The Staircases, and even more prominently, the Wall Reliefs, appear to function like normal staircases, but in fact they go, quite literally, nowhere. As such, the Staircases convey denial to an emphatic degree, perhaps even more so than Goode’s other works (or the works of his peers). This point was certainly not lost on the critic William Wilson, who, in his review of Goode’s exhibition at Pomona College (and of John McCracken’s exhibition on view there concurrently), struggles to reconcile the evasive character of the work. Positing both Goode and McCracken in what he calls “Neutrality-style art,” the writer acknowledges that the work “makes some observers feel tricked, put on.” A similar reticence towards Goode’s work can be found in reviews of the artist’s Milk Bottle paintings, which John Coplans described as “the loneliest painting imaginable.” Philip Leider addressed their “unsettling quality,” or more specifically, their “intrusive moral overtone which set them apart from the inscrutably noncommittal presentations of his fellows.”