American painter. In 1942 he received a BA in art history from the University of Chicago and enlisted in the US Army. After World War II he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA 1949; MFA 1950). The Holocaust and atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were early themes in his work, for instance the lithograph Charnel House (1946), which was based on newspaper photographs of Holocaust victims. He and other Chicago artists, including Cosmo Campoli (b 1922), George Cohen (b 1919) and Nancy Spero, were named the ‘Monster Roster’ by the art critic Franz Schulze (b 1927). In 1951 Golub and Spero were married.
During the 1950s Golub received considerable attention through exhibiting in New York, Chicago, London and in Paris, where he lived from 1959 to 1964. In his paintings of this period he depicted man as the victim of his own civilization, incorporating imagery from Assyrian, Hittite and Aztec art. His series entitled Birth, In-self, Sphinx (e.g. Siamese Sphinx I, 1954; Chicago, priv. col., see 1984 exh. cat., p. 17) and Burnt Man (e.g. Burnt Man IV, 1961; priv. col., see 1984 exh. cat., p. 26) were mythic metaphors for survival. Their message is intensified by tortured paint surfaces, a characteristic technique of scraping down, eroding and reworking that Golub had developed by 1956. Impressed by Etruscan and Roman sculpture while in Italy (1956–7), Golub took examples from late Classical art to express the tragic reduction of man’s godlike qualities to anguish and vulnerability as he attempts to control the irrational by means of the rational (e.g. Orestes, 1956; Chicago, priv. col., see 1984 exh. cat., p. 20). The battling gods and giants of the Hellenistic Altar of Zeus from Pergamon (Berlin, Pergamonmus.) served as a source for the classical nudes of Golub’s large-scale Gigantomachies series of 1965–8 (e.g. Gigantomachy I, 1965; Chicago, Gene R. Summers priv. col., see Kuspit, pp. 132–3).
In his Vietnam series (1972–4) Golub confronted the immoral destructiveness of contemporary violence (e.g. Vietnam II, 1973; artist’s col., see Kuspit, pp. 148–9). This shift from an ideal concept to a precise exposition required him to specify weapons, uniform and napalm through references to news photography, which give a mordant, contemporary edge to the pathology of power. From 1970 Golub no longer used stretchers for his canvases but hung them directly from nails in the wall, sometimes cutting away portions of the paintings. This heightened immediacy continued in a series of some hundred portraits (1976–9) of world leaders such as Brezhnev, Franco, Pinochet and Kissinger.
The series Mercenaries (begun 1975) and Interrogations (begun 1981) define even more precisely and rationally, within a contemporary context, the flagrant abuse of political power that preserves itself through violence (e.g. Mercenaries V, 1984; London, Saatchi priv. col.). Golub’s aggressive images are charged with immediacy and brutality. The monsters are real; not metaphors but mercenaries, thugs and henchmen from the underbelly of power. A Pompeian red field pushes the twice life-size figures forward to the painting’s surface and into the viewer’s space. In Interrogation II (1981; Chicago, IL, A. Inst.) four torturers prepare to work over a naked male lashed to a chair, head in a black sack, and exposed to their sadistic skills. Based on sado-masochistic pornography, these images attract voyeuristic curiosity. The evil-doers look out from the painting with shocking intimacy, making the observer privy to their dirty secrets. Viewer participation is increased in such works as Prisoners (1985; London, Saatchi priv. col.), where we are placed within the victim’s horrifying space. Golub’s work stresses political conscience and has an unswerving commitment to the expression of man’s existential relationship to the world.
From Grove Art Online
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