joshua neustein texts
Neustein 1975
by Noel Frackman

Simplicity of appearance in a work of art is not the same as simplicity of experience. Robert Morris made this point concerning Minimal sculpture but it is equally valid if extended to other areas of art , as well. To describe the works of Joshua Neustein is relatively simple, yet one could also describe a Jasper Johns flag or target quite easily by saying that these are everyday images, executed in bright colors with encaustic, collage, etc. In such a discussion of art, we have all the cosmetics without the face. An appreciation of Neustein's work results from the total process of experiencing the work and that process depends as much on how the mind conceives as on how the eye perceives. Through that process of experiencing, the artist's concepts are revealed and in Neustein's case, these informing 'ideas are rich and' complex.

Gneiss Dermis consists of a sheaf of papers, about five layers thick, sprayed on the outermost sheet with black

Laquered and fixed to the wall' by pins. The work is "finished" at this paint; according to Neustein's ideas, because it is a whole, complete entity one unity with' all the: given elements present. Yet: that is not how the final work looks because Neustein has taken the sheaf of paper, torn it across, and reversed the lower half of the sheaf. Now there are two separate units and what is the sprayed outer sheet above 'is turned front: to back below so that the, sprayed outer surface is pinned against the wall. We recognize the concealed surface because the spraying shadows faintly through on the underside of the paper: We believe this to be the same, torn stack of papers because the upper unit remains in its original position.. It is a simple, tearing and reversal process but can we be absolutely certain? To the spray on the bottom sheet, of the lower unit indeed the same spray coming through the same pinned up some sheets of the bottom unit to make the work more knowable. Now the torn edges of the upper sheets match in, the two units but the lowest sheet, which lies flat, matches the topmost sheet only if we' reverse its image in our minds. Counting the layers of paper is somehow difficult: are there five, six sheets in all? Why should this be troubling since the work is so simple? After all, these are just sheets of newsprint paper subjected to spraying, stacking, tearing, and pinning. In the process of experiencing the work, one 'brings the piece back to its original position and thus retraces the activity that went into, its creation. We go back to not only what we perceive but ' to whatever routine thoughts have occurred that enable us to reconstruct the work.

In an interview Neustein discusses the highly structured quality of his work: "it wasn't always structured. When I was brought up, action painting was the dominant art form. It was that journey from action painting to a structured language that was so much fun." Neustein describes his purpose; "My intention is clear. When I have a part of a piece that is useable, I go to some length to make it knowable -I fold it up to show an edge- to make it knowable. I want it to be seen. When I see a piece of work that doesn't show how it is done, it looks theatrical to me."

Crucial ideas of removal and wholeness in Neustein's recent works were clearly evident in his conceptual, environmental works. In Boots I, (1969), an event done in conjunction with Georgette Batlle and Gerard Marx, 17,000 pairs of old boots were placed so that they filled an entire Artists Exhibition House, Jerusalem. In London in 1971, Neustein dismembered bales of hay, separating the bales from their bindings and showing both within the same room. The separated units of hay bales and bindings were left in visual conjunction at spaced intervals.

Ideals of wholeness, connections, intervals and removal are merged in the Jebel Ridge series, recent works in which sheets of paper which have been separately sprayed and pinned together are subsequently torn. The torn forms are then removed and placed just above the original "parent" layers. Jebel Ridge refers to mountain ranges in Jerusalem and the series suggests topographical references. While Neustein does not focus on nature images, his early mixed media works were in a landscape idiom and several environmental events dealt with nature. Striae, a sheet of paper torn horizontally and vertically with all the pieces separated and in order, carries the geological implication of layers of shale. Neustein observes, "I am connected to the landscape and the way things are built around us...the real world stops me from engaging in geometric acrobatics."

Neustein creates a language, a grammar of tearing, cutting, and folding, and within that syntax, "Each defines paper in a different way and creates a different relationship. A tear is not as severed as a cut and not as contiguous as a fold; it has great specificity. That specificity was for me an important solution in making some meaningful relation with the paper. Each action I could make functionally gave me an additional world for my vocabulary. Manipulation of forms is not a goal for me – for me it's fascinating to turn things around, to put things front to back. Painting was always frontal. Here I can have a painting which is not frontal but which has issues of back to front. (Rina Gallery)

Noel Frackman

Arts Magazine March 1975