The (Art) World According to Edward Goldman

The New York Times       

March 28, 2007

The (Art) World According to Edward Goldman


Los Angeles

EVEN before they avail themselves of the free coffee on a chilly Saturday morning, Edward Goldman’s students are rapt with attention. They have gathered at Bergamot Station, a complex of art galleries in Santa Monica, to hear what he has to say about looking at art and buying it.

His English is laced with a dose of his native Russia as Mr. Goldman welcomes the group: “Los Angeles is not just big city geographically. It’s got layers. I can travel around L.A. literally and figuratively for the rest of my life. Let’s get off our lazy fanny and experience it.”  For the privilege of waking up early for five Saturdays and having Mr. Goldman squire them around the city to galleries, museums and private collections, 20 people have plunked down $500 apiece to take part in the class, “The Art of Collecting.”  Among the group is a young dentist, a paralegal, a woman who lives two hours away in Santa Barbara, and a financial adviser named Betsy Davis, who told Mr. Goldman she wanted to see “the art world through your eyes.”

Mr. Goldman’s accented speech is familiar to most of the participants. For nearly 20 years, he has been dispensing his art criticism in five-minute weekly segments called “Art Talk” on the public radio station KCRW in Santa Monica. That soapbox, expanded through podcasts and the Web, has helped make him a voice of authority in his adopted city.

It also makes him a Pied Piper of art, attracting participants to his classes, which he has taught four times before, and wrangling clients to his art consultancy, which includes individual and corporate collectors. Mr. Goldman doesn’t just love art. He loves to talk about it. He punctuates his talks with the wisdom his participants came to hear.  “Never buy anything at the spur of the moment,” he said to the class. “Never buy while vacationing in places like Carmel. Our collective intelligence drops down to levels you can’t justify.”  “Is that why they serve wine at art openings?” someone asks.

Mr. Goldman, not to be upstaged, shepherds the group into the first gallery of the tour. They gather around the phonographs and wooden statues that make up the installation, “Art Is Sex, Sex Is Art,” by Angela White. “Totally poetic,” he said. “Totally rare. An investigation into chance. I’ll be damned if I understand.”

Mr. Goldman, who would not divulge his age, said he had not intended to stay in Los Angeles when he arrived as a political refugee from Russia with his parents in 1978. Art had long been important in his life; he had worked in the education department of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg for nine years, after receiving a master’s degree in history and museum studies at the former Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University). In America, he had hoped to make his way to what he believed was the center of the American art scene, New York. Instead, he fell for the city that is as wide as Manhattan is tall, sensing there was more to it than freeways.  “I do believe in love at first sight,” he said of Los Angeles. “And 28 years later, not a day passes by without some kind of reminder why I like this city.”

Mr. Goldman has been scouring galleries and studios for years, and many of his devotees credit him with helping to put Los Angeles on the cultural radar screen.

“He’s extremely influential,” said Shoshana Wayne, who started the galleries at Bergamot Station in 1994. “There’s almost a cult behind him. I have quite a few collectors he’s cultivated.”

His frank musings on the radio put some in the city on guard. One museum curator declined to talk about Mr. Goldman because of his influence. Mr. Goldman is, after all, known for his candor. Last year, he said of an exhibition curated by the art historian Donald Kuspit: “There are always plenty of mediocre and sometimes simply bad exhibitions, but it’s an art critic’s job hazard to see them both. This time I encountered one so bad it hurts.”

That is why the public respects him, said Ruth Seymour, the general manager of KCRW, who put Mr. Goldman on the air after visiting museums with him when he arrived in the city. He was not an instant hit. Ms. Seymour said that right after she started broadcasting Mr. Goldman’s reports in 1988, she began fielding calls from listeners who said they could not understand him.  “I said at the time: ‘This is L.A. We have a huge Russian population. We are a place of many accents, so the audience will learn, just like we’ve all had to learn, how to understand people who talk differently.’ ”

Ms. Seymour said that the platform she gave Mr. Goldman was part of the reason for his success in Los Angeles, but, she said, his passion for art has been the key: “He’s been his own motor,” she said. “He’s driven himself. But this is what he was born to do. When he first got here, he was running around, getting involved and becoming part of the scene. That’s a very difficult thing to do without contacts.”

Mr. Goldman said he had a “religious sense of duty” about his radio show and hated to take time off from it: “God forbid people live without their cultural compass for one week.” He talks about launching careers, like that of the young painter Tomory Dodge, whom he discovered at a college exhibition several years ago and discussed on his program. Mr. Dodge’s latest show at the Acme Gallery in Los Angeles sold out before it opened to the public.

Mr. Goldman had not met Mr. Dodge until this particular Saturday, as he squired his class through the Acme gallery.  “Look at these generous brushstrokes,” Mr. Goldman told the group as they gathered before a colorful painting, “Delta.” “This is the most romantic, beautiful palette. It’s a little bit of an apocalyptic vision of a Los Angeles traffic jam.”  Mr. Dodge, looking more like an accountant than a rising art star, said, “I’ve never actually thought of it that way.”

Mr. Goldman was turning the discussion back to collecting. “Being a collector is not just owning it,” he said. “It’s a process. It’s not passive, but active way of collecting, putting yourself on the line.”