Michael Goldberg is a Sydney based artist, curator and academic whose practice includes installation, performance, digital media and sculpture. From his early site-specific installations to later interactions with the global financial market, the artist seeks to create discursive and interactive artworks.
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Installation artist, curator and senior academic in sculpture, performance and installation at Sydney College of the Arts (University of Sydney), Michael Goldberg was born in South Africa in 1952. Goldberg works with a variety of media in response to the impact of colonialism and associated constructions of history.
Goldberg graduated with a BFA (Hons) from the University of Cape Town in 1976 and a Graduate Diploma in Higher Education from the University of Johannesburg in 1977. His experience in South Africa during significant events of the 1980s, such as the Soweto uprising, had a strong impact on his approach to art making. With the benefit of hindsight, Goldberg notes that the arts were left reasonably untouched by the oppressive authorities of the Apartheid regime. However, he and other artists of the time became adept at employing a form of self-censorship within an encoded visual language. These experiences, especially the resolve to craft an appropriate visual language to address shared colonial and racialised histories, informed many of his works after moving to Australia in 1988. In Australia he undertook a Masters of Fine Arts (Hons) at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, graduating in 1996.
Recognising shared themes of colonial authority, Goldberg was able to engage with the social and political environment of Australia. He established a link with the Historic Houses Trust in Sydney and embarked on site-specific installations with the aim of bringing visual interest to heritage sites while at the same time questioning museological constructions of collective history and memory. A Humble Life (1995), installed at Elizabeth Bay House, displayed the artist’s response to the disparate histories of colonial luminaries and their servants. By situating the artwork in the cellar, where the indentured servants of the house once lived, Goldberg sought to question the residual impact of colonialism within contemporary museology through the placement of vitrines and porcelain arranged to mimic a museum preparation room.
The theme of addressing the institutions of colonisation and power informed The Well Built Australian (1999), an installation staged at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in which the artist drew upon the history of the adjoining suburb of Woolloomooloo in order to survey the rapid development of the area. Similarly, The Butterfly Effect (2005), at the Australian Museum, Sydney, examined the disjuncture between collective history and the institution through the interpretation and interaction within the confines of the museum’s displays. As part of the Sydney Festival The Butterfly Effect also testified to Goldberg’s movement between the roles of the artist and the curator.
Through his curatorial projects Goldberg further developed the themes explored in his art practice. Building on his relationship with the Historic Houses Trust, and with support from the Australia Council for the Arts, Goldberg produced Artist in the House! (1997), a series of installations in Elizabeth Bay House. With installations by artists such as Tom Arthur, Jacqueline Clayton, Aleks Danko, Jackie Dunn, Bonita Ely, Chris Fortescue, Nigel Helyer, Anne Graham, Debra Phillips, Julie Rrap, Martin Sims, Ken Unsworth and Anne Zahalka, Artist in the House! introduced new art, ideas and audiences to the sites. Similarly, Swelter (1999-2000), a series of installations in a glass house at the Royal Botanic Gardens, sought to disrupt expectations of contemporary art and revered historical settings.
A marked shift in thematic concerns took place during the late 1990s when Goldberg worked as a financial trader for the purposes of generating an art work. His contribution to 'Auriferous – The Gold Project’ (2001, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery), NCM open/high/low/close, tracked the international price of gold during the exhibition and its impact on Australia’s major gold producer, the Newcrest Mining Company. The artist noted: “All the references to gold in the Bible were also collected and written on the walls, thus uniting sacred and profane activities”. NCM developed a definitive shift from site-specific works to performance-based works incorporating the use of digital media, particularly the use of the internet. Catchingafallingknife.com (2002) at Artspace in Sydney saw an extension of these ideas. Following an introduction to media and internet analyst Geert Lovink, the artist actually bought and sold shares in News Corporation for the three week duration of the performance. For this work the role of the artist folded into that of a financial trader, and the gallery space provided an exposé into the everyday world of the money market.
In 2006 Goldberg took a new direction by working with the City of Sydney to curate a public art project for 'Art and About’ (2006) in Glebe. Many Voices/Merging Visions (2006) was a collaboration between the residents of Glebe and social documentary photographers Roslyn Sharpe and Tamara Killick. Mural sized digital black and white prints of Glebe’s residents were pasted on the streets and buildings of Glebe Point Road in order to suggest local ownership of the spaces and to provoke discussion of the planned upgrade to the street and regeneration of the suburb.
Goldberg’s performance installation La fuerza del deseo/ La fuerza del necesidad, dealing with the dual currencies of the Cuban economy and its effect on the daily lives of Habañeros, was included in the 2009 Havana Biennale. He has received numerous grants from the Australia Council for the Arts (1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001 & 2006) for the development of new work and for group projects such as Artists in the House!, and Swelter. Artists in the House!, The Well Built Australian, and Strong Language, Some Violence, Adult Themes, have all resulted in publications, and Goldberg is included in Adam Geczy and Benjamin Genocchio’s What is Installation Art? An anthology of installation art in Australia (2001, Power Publications).
Catherine De Lorenzo
Note: Art historian and senior lecturer, Architecture Program, Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney. Tippapart, Tida