The cultural avant-garde is ill equipped to deal with George Sugarman. He is not a tease, his work is not hermetic. It is not boring, and it doesn’t make allusions to literature or art history. It is too abrasive and active to inspire introspection or reverie, and it demands participation. An ideological approach to Sugarman’s work is patently absurd; it would be like trying to evaluate the private life of a charging rhinoceros.
Moreover, work like Sugarman’s, which deliberately violates the traditional subordination of the parts to the whole, runs up against a theoretical weakness in art criticism. The analytic techniques developed for traditional art are built on an ideal of total harmony and unity. Most formal criticism is geared to accept “variety” only for the sake of added “interest.” Yet there are temperaments who find this idea of art intolerably bland. They want something that offers continual variety and involvement. For them, emphasis on the isolated totality of the work of art merely reinforces the spectator’s disengagement. Thus Sugarman believes that if a piece of sculpture feels like a thing, even a beautiful thing, it’s a failure. He wants a more energetic relationship between the work and the space it creates, for the sake of vivid response. Consequently, he believes that the relationship between one part of the work and another should not seem overtly inevitable and logical, but open and full of possibilities. The demand for a final unity is not denied, but such unity is put under pressure. Each part must repay out attention in itself, while the tension between consecutive parts must be compelling enough to lead the audience through the entire work.
Amy Goldin, “Morris Louis: Thinking the Unwordable,” Art News, April 1968
Written by Amy Goldin in 1972, this short essay entitled “Rugs” was never published.
Amy Goldin, “The Esthetic Ghetto: Some Thoughts about Public Art,” May/June 1974