Exhibition | JOSEPH GOTO | Essay

The sculptures of Joe Goto (1916-1994) reflect the artist’s no holds barred approach to life and his joy of artistic risk taking. Goto was a small man of remarkable strength and drive born in 1920 to Japanese parents living in Hawaii. He became a master welder while working in the army from 1941-45 and in 1947 moved to Chicago to study painting and drawing at the Art Institute. He started creating welded steel sculptures in 1951 and never felt the urge to use other materials or processes. Creating direct, one of a kind, experimental compositions was his method. Noted architectural historian William H. Jordy describes Goto’s process in his essay from a 1971 exhibition catalog devoted to Goto’s sculpture held at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.

“He starts from the primary shapes in the steel monger’s catalog; rods (mostly round, but sometimes square), shafts (rods grown large and tough for the shafting of machinery), bars (sometimes square-edged, sometimes with rounded corners), sheets and plates (in the larger works especially), with some pipes and tubing. Shafts slice into disks – a shape much favored by Goto. Bars slice into cubes and rectangular solids. But the simple shapes with which Goto starts are transformed in the process of becoming sculpture. Cut, shattered, corroded, bent, burnished, hammered, seared, scored, filed...the composite process combines the violence called forth by the crudeness and toughness of metal yielding to fire with all the subtle nuances and mysteries of surface which this handling makes possible. The material, the process and its range of effects accord with Goto’s feeling for nature: joyous, tender, yet unsentimentally aware that nature’s victories, like those in sculpture are hard won.”

Very early in his career, Goto was singled out by curator Alfred Barr, who bought the 1951 sculpture "Organic Form I," a 12-foot tall piece, for the permanent collection of MOMA. Throughout his first decade as an artist Goto's welded steel sculpture was shown in major national and international shows. These included a 1963 exhibit in Battersea Park, in London, where his first monumental work sat alongside large pieces by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The artist was recognized throughout his career with fellowships from the Whitney Foundation, the Graham Foundation and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He exhibited in four Whitney Museum Biennial exhibitions and his work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Kresge Art Museum and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water house in Mill Run, PA.

We are pleased to exhibit these remarkable sculptures and to present them alongside the artist’s intuitive Zen like drawings and paintings of sculptural forms. Similar to his sculptures, Goto’s two dimensional works are direct and forceful statements by an artist who embodied the passions and conflicts of Post War America in the nineteen fifties and sixties.

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