Mirror Universe: The Paintings, Sculpture, and Film of Carol Brown Goldberg

By Cara Ober

“The raising of questions… the spirit of wonder, is a sine qua non of dialogue. Living in the questions is a good place to begin.”—Patricia Romney’s The Art of Dialogue

“What I love is the dialogue. I love it as much as I love painting.”—Carol Brown Goldberg

To fully comprehend the range and depth of the prodigious artistic output of Carol Brown Goldberg, you must first consider the commonalities among her varied practices of painting, sculpture, and video, which diverge formally but conceptually center on the act and idea of dialogue.

In this context, it’s helpful to reflect on the separate Greek root words of dialogue: dia and logos, which present two different but synchronous directions in approaching Goldberg’s work. Dia can be defined as “through,” and designates process, while logos translates to “word” or “meaning.” In its earliest use, logos also meant “gather together” and alluded to relationships between individuals and aspects of the natural world. Within a modern reference, logos might be best translated as “relationship,” with dialogue functioning as a collective “thinking through,” where people build rapport through conversation. This type of exchange necessitates deep and respectful listening and consideration of the opinions of others; it requires a suspension of differences and disbelief, and ideally results in a combination of disparate energies into new and greater alliances. A true dialogue accepts the openness of questions, realizing that grappling with them is more about forming connections rather than arriving at simple or finite answers. It is this spirit of dialogue that Goldberg has explored in myriad forms for close to 30 years, and most specifically since 2006, in varying bodies of paintings, sculpture, and even video.

Embedded rather than illustrated, the concept of dialogue in Goldberg’s work requires a questioning process that evolves slowly, much like a conversation. When you gaze at her color-saturated abstract canvases you will find no immediate or obvious references to language or conversation. There are no discernible images or phrases, no snippets of text or letters, although an archetypal sense of familiarity abounds. Working in simultaneous series, the artist has developed her own complex visual language systems designed to engage in a variety of ways through correlations of visual order and chaos, and codes of line and shape, color systems and layers, and material culture.

In her bronze and mixed media sculptural work, familiar household objects are joined in conversation with one another and coalesce into biomorphic figures, which are often arranged to resemble social groupings. Although it isn’t immediately apparent, the theme of dialogue, realized as a collective grappling with the universal questions of human consciousness, comes into focus when engaging with all of Goldberg’s work, including recent forays into video. They all require a slowing down, a meditative and lingering engagement, a willingness to accept questions that have no answer. The work requires the viewer to participate in a conversation with it to properly experience it; this transactional, collective thinking mimics the act of forming relationships between human beings in robust discussion and also offers opportunities for individual visitors to the gallery to join in conversation with others about the meaning and process of the work.

Realizing that communication is essential for all human beings and language is a complex tool, the artist has long been interested in the varied ways that human beings connect and create meaning. When she first started painting abstractly in the 1980s after earning a BFA at the Corcoran, Goldberg thought literally about visual dialogue and conversation. “Al Held was my hero,” she remembers. “I started taking different alphabets and creating volume and filling the space on the canvas. I made a whole series of these intricate paintings, and I loved making up language.” She composed her invented alphabets into intricate and interlocking patterns, not unlike the tile patterns that adorn countless mosques and holy places and function as abstract expressions of the sublime. In some, she invented elaborate codes for communicating, and this built a cohesive structure she craved for the compositions, hinting at language but without revealing the secret code to her viewers.

In this way, Goldberg embedded her own story—one of family, of heritage, of relationships—into these detail-laden compositions, but without disclosing any specifics, thus allowing others to project their own history and secrets into them. One essential aspect of dialogue is delivering compelling storytelling, but also understanding that one must be open to the experiences and viewpoints of others, to realize that your own position is not final and to engage with the possibilities of others, which enriches the work in unexpected ways. By creating coded communication and reflecting the patterns of language without a direct translation, Goldberg was able to keep her visual narratives simultaneously universal and personal.

“I loved making this kind of narrative work, but I eventually turned to work on a few big shows in 1985 on war and power and guns,” Goldberg recalls in a recent studio visit, also noting the irony that such polarizing political issues have retained and even grown in relevance since then. Instead of moving in a didactic direction, Goldberg transitioned into more abstract thinking, desiring to engage more deeply with larger questions of human nature and even the cosmos, linking a macro- and microvision of human relationships with quantum physics and neuroscience. “After that, the dialogue from the studio and interaction with artists changed my thinking,” she says. “I began to fling vocabulary and geometry into space.”

This interest in dialogue and communication has taken Goldberg far outside her Washington-based studio and into the curation of people and ideas. Over the years, she has hosted and executed numerous speaker series and salons, often partnering with colleges and universities, as well as hosting intimate get-togethers in her studio and home that feature artists, scholars, scientists. In addition, Goldberg makes public works of sculpture designed to provoke dialogue and create community in public spaces, most recently at Martha’s Table, a women’s shelter in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C., where her six-foot-tall sculpture Mister Willis’s Invention was unveiled in June 2018 as a totem to domestic power and creative thinking.

It is not insignificant that Goldberg curates all of her professional work around the idea of dialogue, that the concepts and forms developed in her studio mirror her activities in the world, and that the work and the exchanges reciprocally shape each other. “Each time I have a show, I give a talk,” she says. “And each time it’s different. For me, showing my work is an essential part of the experience of art making. And the feedback I get, especially when people tell me they feel like they can walk into a painting, is incredibly valuable to me.”

According to painter Mark Rothko, “Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks.” This idea becomes even more articulate when an artist like Goldberg works in multiple disciplines and styles. None of these bodies of work are secondary to each other and all have been developed for decades, simultaneous yet separate, but with each “conversation” and body of work enriching the other.

Fascinated with physics, geography, and spirituality, Goldberg’s abstract painting series, the “Circle Paintings,” explores images of the void and optical illusion, flirting with expansive space and nothingness at the same time. “The ‘Circle Paintings’ were inspired by the idea of all that’s out there in the universe that we don’t currently know about, and what this means for our lives,” Goldberg says. She cites the research of astrophysicist Margaret Geller, a MacArthur fellow whose studies of the spatial distribution of galaxies built a new understanding of the structure of the universe. When the artist learned about Geller’s discovery of a heterogeneous distribution of galaxies outside traditional cosmological theory, she was fascinated by the potential for her paintings to mimic and even embody the balance of symmetry and asymmetry of galaxy formation, realized as contrasting fields of pattern and space. Rather than literally translating Geller’s research, Goldberg used it as a muse and springboard for her own, more intuitive research; the series explores the vastness of space as well as the possibilities for meaning for a single human.
Viewed as a rowdy visual conversation, where different layers of compositional elements contrast and coalesce, Goldberg’s series evokes the notion of dark matter in the grounds, creating the illusion of deep space, almost like a photo from the Hubble telescope. In A Nostalgic Radical in Florence (2010), a chaotic dark surface, gleaming with what appears to be stars and hazy galaxies, churns under Abstract Expressionistic slashes of white and yellow paint. Laid over it all, a screen of tiny dots acts as a rectangular frame for the darkness, simultaneously beckoning and pushing the viewer back from the wall-sized (84 x 96 inches) tableaux. Up close, the seemingly regular sea of dots rewards you with the poetic irregularities of the artist’s hand: no two dots are the same, although they appear to be, seen from a distance, as they slowly gradate, almost like neon, from red to pink to white to green and back to white, with all tints in between. This roiling, shallow space unites all the disparate elements compositionally, but also functions to activate the surface of the painting with thick and thin viscosities.

In addition to spatial conversations that relate to astrophysics, the “Circle Paintings” express a passion for color relationships and the panoply of optical expressions that can be embodied in one canvas, reflecting emotional and intellectual reasoning, as well as the ephemeral state of memories. A self-described child of the Color School, Goldberg recalls Gene Davis as a significant teacher and mentor when she studied at the Corcoran for her BFA. “You are a colorist, you love color,” she recalls Davis telling her, a statement that continues to motivate new work that is imbued with a range of emotional and optical impact.

Goldberg’s aesthetics were also influenced by Margaret Livingstone, PhD, a Harvard-based neurobiologist and author of Color and Vision, a text that combines science and art to explore how the best art successfully fools the brain, Livingstone’s research and observations focus on depth perception, how the eye sees and translates color, and the more mysterious and ephemeral aspects of great works of art. Livingstone’s findings gave Goldberg permission to invent a new optical system in her “Circle Paintings” series. The abstract paintings allude to earlier structures she developed to encompass a secret linguistic code, but instead use color, pattern, and layers to evoke optical illusion and emotional states. In approaching the series, Goldberg created a new system that enabled her to explore a painting’s ability to simulate the emptiness of deep space and the odd light it emits, especially through contrast and color.

“Painting is about light, creating light through color,” she says. “I kept thinking about the way dark and light impact each other, and I wanted to create the sensation of light in the center of the painting.” After she created the first “Circle” painting, using teacups to measure out a shimmering grid of dots in gradating shades from blue to white, she stood back and was shocked at the iridescent “butterfly” effect of the technique. She was so surprised by the visual impact, she called Livingston at Harvard, and sent her the image. “Why do you see this when you go from dark to light?” Goldberg asked her. “And she said, ‘I don’t know. Who knows?’ But she said it is the way light works and it does create an optical illusion. And I thought, that’s a great challenge.”

This same challenge continues to motivate Goldberg, who still finds a template approach and systematic painting technique to be exciting because each piece is a surprise. She works on flat canvases and never knows what the finished work will look like until it is lifted up and gazed upon from afar. Simultaneous layers of depth multiply the element of chance in each painting; this allover compositional quality functions as a barrier and also as an invitation to ponder deep space.

It is this dance between order and unpredictability, and the occasional breakdown of the system, that causes these works to emulate aspects of geography, and the qualities of outer space. In addition to the illusion of space, Goldberg’s swirling yet structured compositions bring tenets of physics and astronomy into conversation with an abstract spirituality and organicism. Depending upon how you choose to experience them, the “Circle Paintings” present a balance of micro- and macro- versions of life—as if looking at DNA under a microscope while simultaneously looking into a telescope; they challenge the concept of location and place, both on a local and a universal level. Inspired by questions, these paintings yield no specific answers, but simply allude to an ongoing metaphoric dialogue and evolving conversation about larger questions of meaning and relationships.

Goldberg cultivates this dialogue between chaos and order in a consistent but playful fashion within the series, continuing to layer pixilated grids of circles over loose and gestural Abstract Expressionist surfaces, but employing different color systems, as well as experimenting with compositions. In A Night at Carlin’s Park (2006), the artist layers different sizes of pixilated screens to create relationships and depth within shallow surface space; in After Valladolid (2009), she employs a grid of four separate grids, offering an Albers-esque Homage to the Square take on her own visual language. In Oh Baby, Baby, Baby (2008), the artist abandons the surface grid structure entirely, cultivating a deep eddy of dissolving grids and concentric circles in pinks and blues. Flecked with glitter, the painting signifies the artist’s playful attitude and a willingness to break the rules she has established, conjuring up a convivial and social atmosphere where geometric systems melt like individuals in a buzzing crowd.

Working across different media, Goldberg is a formalist who values the learning that occurs only through the process of art making. But she is also a conceptual artist, cultivating a dialogue between material and process, varying according to the ideas she wants to express. In her sculptural practice, Goldberg investigates material culture, the thingness of things, and combines found objects into small maquettes that become biomorphic postmodern figures of discarded household ephemera and mechanical detritus. Cast in bronze, these figures form a small and friendly army that proliferates across her studio’s surfaces, calling out to and challenging the monumental canvases that fill the rest of the space, inciting a different type of dialogue.

“At same time I started the ‘Circle’ paintings, I started gluing these objects together,” Goldberg says. (Most are worked at a consistent size that comfortably sits on a table top or pedestal, except for her larger public works that can tower over six feet.) “The maquettes are not archival, so they needed to be bronzed,” she explains. The artist likened the process of bronzing her combinations of ephemeral materials to maturing her ideas into solid forms, almost like ascending from one level of making to the next challenge.

Each piece is numbered and titled with the letters “RA,” a reference to relational aesthetics, Bourriard’s concept of the social context of artistic practices—essentially, that the purpose of art is to facilitate human relationships and social interactions. This intentional reference to dialogue unites Goldberg’s bronzes with her painting practice, and, despite obvious formal and aesthetic divergences, places their focus on discussion and interaction between individual sculptural figures, as well as between the artworks and audience.

What is also interesting about Goldberg’s bronzes is how they maintain the light and whimsical quality of the maquettes they were molded from, despite the weight and color of their material. “Sculpture is something you have to do for your own hands,” says the artist. Thus, the act of cutting and pouring, of collecting and curating, of combining and gluing elements together is an opportunity for questions about modernity and the purpose of material culture and history, an opportunity explore a physical and formal conversation, questioning the materials that used to have a functional, mechanical, or domestic purpose and transforming them into anthropomorphic, robotic figures.

Sculptures RA 003 (2009) and RA 025 (2010) function in familiar and quirky, almost friendly ways. While their material makeup is an assemblage of common discarded objects that you might find in an old cellar, garage, or kitchen, each also reads anthropomorphically. In the case of RA 003, the figure’s head is made from old parts of a lamp, with arms made of small pieces of wood arranged formally like Egyptian hieroglyphic stylized arms. With one arm raised in greeting, the sculpture presents as a curious robot or magical amalgamation of memory-laden bits. Witty and charming, with disparate objects united into one by the bronze casting process, the figure suggests socializing or a greeting. Placed with other similar figures, they suggest a community. RA 025 is a male and female couple united in two halves of a wooden box, where the male head, the taller half made of a vintage rotor brush with crunchy hair, sits next to his partner, whose head appears to be a measuring spoon with triangular breasts below. Arranged so that the shapes of bodily features mimic a human form, but also retaining the history and functionality of each of the disparate objects that formed it, Goldberg’s bronze sculptures imbue the discarded human-made objects that comprise them with nostalgia and also lively potential.

Although they function as formal objects and don’t necessarily need to be “read” as figures, these small bronzes add a personable and warm component to this exhibition. Their simultaneous presentation of familiar and everyday objects, as well as their ability to mirror a human figure, offers a glimpse into an ongoing dialogue the artist has with herself and her materials: what does it all mean? And how, as an artist, can I transform mundane and useful objects into a new and metaphorical entity that questions everything we think we know about them?

Objects have their own language. The idea that our castoff materials contain our memories, that each object may function as a personal code for the artist, or can offer new combinations of memories for a viewer, continues Goldberg’s adherence to narratives that are both universal and personal—her own story and a larger, collective reality. Her film, The Color of Time (2012), codirected with Anthony Szulc, captures the artist’s memories of her childhood in Baltimore, and offers a combination of vignettes unfold in a stream-of-consciousness narrative, augmented by original music created by the artist’s son and daughter-in-law. More specific and personal than her paintings and sculpture, the video offers ever-present, universal questions for the viewer to ponder: Where do we come from? Who are the family members who share our DNA and what does this mean for the formation of self? What memories sustain us and shape us into the individuals we are today? How do our experiences and relationships fill us with emotion and the drive to make new objects and images? How do we translate lived experience into meaningful and metaphorical imagery?

Taken as a whole, Goldberg’s disparate practices, materials, and ideas center on life’s largest questions, facilitating dialogue about these issues in order to increase understanding, to unite rather than divide. Within the context of the history of abstraction, Goldberg continues to confront the void—as a metaphor both for life and for the vastness of space; her lively expressions affirm a faith in the importance of lived experience, engaging with and energized by academic research.

Her prodigious and varying approaches to dialogue and communal thinking resist dogmatic or reductionist approaches to art making; like nature, they push against the very systems that form their core structure. This ongoing struggle to communicate is what animates Goldberg’s paintings, sculpture, and video, reinforcing the idea that asking questions of why and how in elegant and varied ways is much more important than arriving at answers. These questions, embodied in varied materials and processes, coupled with a curious mind and a strong work ethic, serve as a rich well of constant artistic output, yielding moments of transcendence and lucidity within a structured process of creation.

Grounded in the ethos of dialogue, Goldberg’s paintings, sculpture, and video work engage the heart as well as the mind. The conversation she offers is not pragmatic or everyday, but rather has a focused purpose: to address the existing systems that build meaning—linguistic, scientific, aesthetic, historical—and to build relationships between those who engage with the questions raised. Embedded in luscious painted surfaces, compelling color, contrasting and unique materials, and an experimental attitude towards process, Goldberg’s work brings together seemingly dissimilar elements, ideas, and individuals—its viewers—to create and discover new meaning. Her restless urge to encounter is contagious and inclusive; her work encourages all who engage with it to become united as discoverers and experimenters themselves.

Cara Ober is founding editor and publisher at BmoreArt, Baltimore’s art and culture magazine.




Carol Brown Goldberg

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts proudly presents this exhibition of recent paintings and sculpture by artist Carol Brown Goldberg. She has lived and worked in Maryland and Washington, D.C., for most of her artistic career. She has exhibited her art in the region and in national venues, has actively participated in the artistic life of the region, has taught art at American University and University of Maryland, and serves on the boards of the Phillips Collection and on the Collector’s Committee of the Reading Public Museum. She is deeply committed to arts education, having pursued her own study of art with a BA degree in American studies from University of Maryland and a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art. In D.C., she studied with Washington Color School artist Gene Davis.

She has an abiding interest in the intersection between art and science. Her nonobjective, nonrepresentational art explores the science and aesthetics of color perception, optics, geometry, design, and process. Her intensively worked paintings are created over periods of concentrated labor, a process she describes as being in “a meditative, rhythmic state.”

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is grateful to Goldberg for so generously sharing her art through this exhibition. Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, has also generously supported the exhibition through assistance with the catalog and exhibition logistics. The museum’s Agnita M. Stine Schreiber curator Daniel Fulco, PhD, has written the catalog essay and interpretive texts. Together with the artist and Kay Palmateer, collections and exhibitions manager, he also selected the paintings and sculpture for this beautiful exhibition, and developed its design and installation.

Over its 87-year history, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts has demonstrated a commitment to regional artists through annual juried competitions, group shows, and solo exhibitions. These exhibitions not only benefit the artists, but also awaken, inspire, and uplift the people of Hagerstown in Washington County, Maryland, and the surrounding four-state and Mid-Atlantic regions, through the transformative power of art.

We hope you will enjoy the exhibition and remember it through this catalog.


Rebecca Massie Lane, Director
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Hagerstown, Maryland


Reflections on the Art of Carol Brown Goldberg

This exhibition assembles 23 works by artist Carol Brown Goldberg that were created from 2006 to 2012 and includes paintings, sculptures, and a film. Drawing on a long tradition of visual abstraction and influenced by a range of 20th-century art movements such as Fauvism, the Bauhaus, Abstract Expressionism, and color field painting, Goldberg’s canvases evoke a wide variety of emotional responses from viewers through her bold use of color and contrast of forms.


Born in Baltimore and based in the Washington, D.C., area, Goldberg received her BA in American studies from the University of Maryland, College Park; she earned a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, where she studied under Gene Davis. Represented by Addison/Ripley Fine Art in D.C., the artist has exhibited her work nationally and internationally at Washington’s Phillips Collection and American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center; the George Segal Gallery, Montclair State University, New Jersey; Vero Beach Museum of Art, Florida; the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings; and the Parque de Levante, Murcia, Spain.


Over the course of her career, Goldberg has continued to develop her pictorial and sculptural methods and styles. Her work explores the use of color, texture, and form and derives inspiration from scientific discoveries in quantum physics and neuroscience, developments in artistic theory, her life experiences and memories, and music. As a painter, she works primarily with acrylic polymers and pulverized glass; in her sculptures she employs cast bronze.


As a whole, Goldberg’s paintings are controlled, geometric compositions created with carefully applied pigments that glow and sparkle. Each of her canvases reveals a high degree of complexity—their intricate, iridescent color schemes and patterns mesmerize, envelop, and pull the viewer into her inner spiritual world. Of particular importance to the artist are the recollections of her early life with family and friends in Baltimore, most notably in paintings such as A Night in Carlin’s Park (2006, Fig. 1), Five o’ Clock at 4 North Eutaw Street (2007, Fig. 2), and Park Heights (2011, Fig. 3). Goldberg’s titles point to very specific locations of the city, some of which still exist. Other sites have vanished, like Carlin’s amusement park, which was demolished in 1962.


In A Night in Carlin’s Park, the painter places rows of red circles on top of a black and dark blue ground. A translucent blue rectangle is delicately suspended over these forms in such a way that fleeting images of fragmented, vibrant flashing lights and signs appear—familiar elements that are encountered at fairs and that adorn rides and entertainment pavilions. As the artist describes in her film codirected with Anthony Szulc, The Color of Time (2012), the rectangles in her paintings are “windows onto memories where circles are points of remembrance. Seemingly perfect shapes actually are imperfect ones upon closer examination.” They represent that which Goldberg cannot attain, that is, the details of vague recollections that escape the mind with the passing of time.[1] Similarly, the spirit and excitement of downtown Baltimore is captured in Five o’ Clock at 4 North Eutaw Street, a spot located right next to the renowned Hippodrome Theatre. The black and white circles that intertwine with strands of blue, red, and yellow recall Jackson Pollock’s intricate, layered bands of color in his drip paintings of the 1940s and 1950s. These pictorial motifs also evoke an atmosphere of hustle and bustle and bring to mind the bright lights and liveliness of this neighborhood.


The multiplicity of colors and textures that are present in Goldberg’s paintings attempt to reconnect and resolve disparate aspects of human experience through the establishment of a harmony of color, light, and geometric forms. As the artist states, “I remember when I first came across André Derain’s statement ‘the substance of paint is light.’ It focused me on the power of color and how liquid paint could be isolated to create a potential luminance. Hot and cool colors dramatically play off of each other, and in so doing create a magical illusion of light, or aura, which seems to emanate out of the grid of circles.”[2] These aspects of Goldberg’s approach and technique can be observed in Mrs. Brown Won’t Paint the Town Today (2008, Fig. 4) and A Nostalgic Radical in Florence (2010, Fig. 5) in which she deftly juxtaposes bright and dark tones that create varying moods. While Mrs. Brown Won’t Paint the Town Today contains cool colors of white, gray, and violet over which black circles are laid, A Nostalgic Radical in Florence features warm tones of red, orange, and pink that are sharply contrasted with green, blue, and white.


Goldberg melds different colors on the pictorial plane as a means of eliciting simultaneous emotional responses. Her methods draw upon theories first developed by poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in relation to the color wheel’s tonal temperatures, and which he argued could parallel different human emotions.[3] Later, painter Wassily Kandinsky expanded upon Goethe’s concepts in developing his idea of synesthesia or the creation of multisensory experiences of sound and emotion through the arrangement of varying colors in his Improvisations and early Compositions (1909–1917). As art historian Donald Kuspit has noted, Goldberg’s work follows in the tradition of Kandinsky’s abstractions and he has compared her canvases to “chromoaesthetic musical paintings” through their “synthesis of opposites and reconciliation of incompatibles.”[4] (Other modernists employed comparable approaches in their experimentation with color and form, including Derain, Henri Matisse, Giacomo Balla, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee.)


In addition, Kuspit has discussed how Goldberg responded to the work of German Bauhaus artist Josef Albers and reinterpreted his use of the square on her own terms.[5] While her canvases pay homage to Albers, their extensive use of geometric forms also invokes associations with the paintings of mid-century modernists Mark Rothko, Gene Davis, Sol LeWitt, and Frank Stella, all of whom explored the wide-ranging possibilities afforded by bold coloristic juxtapositions.


According to Goldberg, the very notion of “mirror universe” (for which this exhibition is named) has diverse implications, chief among them the concept of “mirror neurons in the brain that may allow us to experience compassion,” a subject that is currently be researched by neuroscientists.[6] As the artist writes, “the glitters of reflective light” in her paintings can be linked to the “visual sensations” and sensory perceptions that we experience when viewing these elements, and which are carried to the brain by our mirror neurons. As she describes her paintings, “each artwork is its own universe. There is no up, there is no down, there is no left, there is no right. As our focus is anchored in the center, the edges of the canvas fall into our peripheral vision.”[7] In relation to this process, the rectangular spaces that occupy the center of Five o’ Clock at 4 North Eutaw Street, Mr. Velder’s English Class (2007, Fig. 6), and The Future of Nostalgia captivate the viewer by opening a window onto an abstract cosmos of flickering, star-like forms that shimmer, overlap with bands of bright colors, and float across the surface of the canvas.


The artist’s fascination with science also extends to nanotechnology, aspects of which have provided her with both theoretical and creative inspiration. This broad branch of science focuses on the manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale; it is studied in a wide range of fields such as organic chemistry, molecular biology, semiconductor physics, and molecular engineering. In NT 21 (2011, Fig. 7) and NT 22 (Fig. 8), Goldberg assembles free-flowing triangles, rectangles, and circles that intersect one another and are framed on the paintings’ outer edges by rectangles whose borders are comprised of small circles. The title “NT” refers to nanotechnology and in applying both this field and term to these works, she suggests that her images might seek to represent an atomic and molecular world of circular particles that are invisible to the naked eye. The dynamic equilibrium established in NT 21 through the work’s strategically arranged geometric and spatial relationships recalls examples of Russian Constructivist painting, most notably El Lissitzky’s PROUN series (1921–25), as well as Kandinsky’s works from his Bauhaus period (1922–33). Similarly, NT 22 conveys intriguing graphic qualities through its emphasis on coloristic contrasts of white, black, gray, and red, and the precise layering of superimposed forms. Goldberg’s techniques closely resemble those present in photograms (1923–30) executed by Bauhaus artists Herbert Bayer and László Moholy-Nagy. The horizontal rows of six rectangles merge effortlessly with the canvas’s white circles on the periphery and in the middle ground. All of these forms are strikingly juxtaposed with the black background while the gestural ribbons of red and white on the painting’s surface add an element of chance and spontaneity to the overall composition.


While Goldberg’s sculptures differ considerably in terms of conception, execution, and technique from her paintings, they nevertheless engage closely with the theme of memory. As the artist remarked in an interview with editor Glenn Harper from 2011, some of her sculptures were originally named after different people whom she had known over the course of her life.[8] However, after she had created 150 bronzes, Goldberg decided to rename them with the letters “RA,” which refer to relational aesthetics, a term first coined by French curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud in his 1998 book of the same title. This concept is defined as a group of artistic practices that are theoretically based upon human relations and their social context instead of independent and private spaces. Essentially, Bourriaud argued that artists were facilitators rather than makers. He contended that art served as a form of information exchanged between artists and viewers, and that art should foster more interaction and discussion.[9] Goldberg might well have retitled her sculptures in response to relational aesthetics in order to convey her ideas on a more universal level and emphasize how her work could connect more directly yet broadly to people’s social and personal conditions.


In RA 040 (2010, Fig. 9) and RA 078 (2011, Fig. 10), she exactingly incorporates found objects into each composition and cleverly unites once neglected parts of machines and devices. In contrast to her paintings, her sculptures make direct reference to the outside world and represent figures abstractly in humorous, often unexpected ways. RA 040 portrays a standing figure with a head and eyes made of a vent piece. Its torso is comprised of an electrical outlet plate and the head of a soldering gun while its hands are made from two toilet paper spindles. In RA 078, a head and neck fashioned out of a pipe neck emerge from the base of the sculpture above which old light switches, a disused electrical box, and an alarm clock rest against a metal plate. These pieces recall actual persons and places, while the sizes and shapes of the body parts allude to specific physiognomic, corporeal, and environmental features.


When we view this group of work, we cannot help but notice its resemblance to Dadaist paintings and sculptures of the 1920s, specifically those of Francis Picabia and Max Ernst, who explored the impact of the machine on modern society. However, unlike her predecessors, Goldberg’s pieces are not pessimistic, critical, or politically charged. Rather, they are autobiographical, optimistic, and witty. Her sculptures invite us to partake in contemplating both the diverse components that comprise them and the many meanings they convey. As Goldberg’s career and oeuvre evolve, it is exactly this combination of precision, ingenuity, improvisation, and wit that her work continues to embody and communicate so effectively and subtly.


Daniel Fulco, PhD
Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Hagerstown, Maryland



[1] Carol Brown Goldberg, Anthony Szulc. The Color of Time: A Film by Carol Brown Goldberg and Anthony Szulc, 2012.

[2] Conversation with Carol Brown Goldberg, June 20, 2018.

[3] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Zur Farbenlehre. Vol. 1. Tübingen: J.G. Cotta, 1810, 758–915.

[4] Donald Kuspit, “At the Center: Carol Brown Goldberg’s Abstract Painting in Art Historical Perspective,” in Kuspit, ed., Carol Brown Goldberg: Recent Works. Exhibition catalogue. Washington, D.C.: International Art & Artists and Carol Brown Goldberg, 2014, 13–14.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] Conversation with Carol Brown Goldberg, June 13, 2018. A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires after an animal completes an action and when it observes the same action performed by another. Leigh Hopper, “Mirror neuron activity predicts people’s decision-making in moral dilemmas.” Science Daily. January 5, 2018, University of California, Los Angeles. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180105124023.htm. Accessed July 25, 2018; Leonardo Christov-Moore, Paul Conway, Marco Iacoboni. “Deontological Dilemma Response Tendencies and Sensorimotor Representations of Harm to Others.” Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 2017; 11 DOI: 10.3389/fnint.2017.00034. Accessed July 25, 2018.

[7] Conversation with Carol Brown Goldberg, June 20, 2018.

[8] Glenn Harper, “A Conversation with Carol Brown Goldberg: Thinking with Things,” in Donald Kuspit, Carol Brown Goldberg: Painting & Sculpture. Exhibition catalog. Montclair, NJ: George Segal Gallery, Montclair State University, 2011,

[9] Nicolas Bourriaud. Esthétique relationelle. Dijon: Presses du réel, 1998 ; “Relational Aesthetics.” The Tate, 1–16, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/r/relational-aesthetics. Accessed July 25, 2018.