Photo by Elliott Shaffner

Back in 1994, New Image Art, like so much of what has soul in the art world, began as an “experiment” in the space that Marsea Goldberg had been using as a design studio — she herself predicted it wouldn’t last much more than five months. “I was burnt out on designing,” the raven-haired mother of one and committed surfer says while picking at a California roll on the patio of Whole Foods on a recent gloomy June afternoon, “and I had this cool space in the middle of town, and everybody was like, ‘Why don’t we clean it up and show our art in it?’ So that’s what happened.”

The first shows featured Goldberg’s work and that of her friends crammed into a single 11-by-11-foot room. “I looked around and I saw a need for a place in Los Angeles that was willing to show the work of young and emerging artists,” she says. “People like Mike Kelley were showing locally and a few others, but I just felt like there was so much else out there that wasn’t being given a chance.”

At one point, a mutual friend suggested that Goldberg and the artist Karen Finley might get along. They met, and it turned out they hit it off. The relationship led to a Karen Finley show at New Image, which in turn found its way down to MOCA. With blossoming underground cachet encouraged by strong word of mouth, Goldberg and her gallery developed a knack for attracting a rather luminous mix of local talent. “Artists like Ed Moses and John Baldessari kept showing up to the openings,” remembers Goldberg. “And I just kind of preyed on them and would be like, ‘Hey, if you’re gonna show up all the time to hang out, then you oughta be in the show.’”

Spending time with Goldberg, one sees how easily that could happen. Her powers of persuasion are formidable and further bolstered by a hard-to-fake passion. Goldberg’s sense of urgency about the importance of the art is contagious: Whether it be an artist scrambling to get a piece together for a show, or a collector scrounging a down payment from a lint-filled pocket, one tends to do whatever it takes, just shy of pawning the baby’s stroller, to get in on the action. And lately, as the straight-laced art world lovingly spoons more than a few New Image talents (Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton, Chris Johanson and Shaun O’Dell come to mind), one gets the sense that Goldberg’s ability to predict a resonant version of the new, new thing is not to be taken lightly.

With her gallery experiment in its third year, Goldberg’s path took a decided turn in 1997 when she walked into George’s Gallery on Vermont Avenue one evening and had what she believes was nothing short of a spiritual experience. It was a group show, MOVE, curated by a young artist named Rich Jacobs that featured many of the artists who were then coming out of the street, skate and surf scenes.

“I’m a really visual person,” she says, reflecting back on the moment. “And it’s actually hard for me to put into words what art means to me, but I will tell you that when I walked into that gallery, it was physical thing. I just knew. And I was like, ‘This is the future of art.’ I had found the group of artists that I wanted to work with. It was just so pure and unjaded, and I was like, ‘These are the kind of artists and this is the kind of art that I want to be around. I mean, I know there’s a place for pretentious art. And, I think, on some level, too, that it’s very important. But for me, speaking personally, that’s not what I want to be involved with.”

After that night, Goldberg and Jacobs (whose work is also currently in a three-man show at Shepard Fairey’s Black Market) struck up a friendship that has resulted in the two collaborating on five more MOVE shows including the recently opened “Lead Poisoning,” a pencil-drawing show that will run for the duration of the summer at New Image.

The show, a who’s who of the New Image family, features work from more than 50 artists, including Karen Finley, Geoff McFetridge, Ryan McGuiness, Mark Gonzales and Eddie Ruscha Jr. “Lead Poisoning” is a bit of a kitchen-sink affair, which is something that makes Goldberg happy. “It’s good to open things up once in a while and see what happens, see who shines,” she says, laughing. And although the talent and level of execution vary, it’s the show’s down-and-dirty lo-fi POV (all artists were ordered to use pencil and paper only — some didn’t comply) that gives the exhibit such a strong sense of cohesion. With this show, as with New Image in general, the driving imperative places more value on a gritty authenticity than it does on technical virtuosity. Later this month, Goldberg and Jacobs will also be uniting on the East Coast for “Skate Culture, the Art of Skateboarding” at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach, which opens July 19.

Having just relocated to her new storefront space nestled behind a tangle of ivy and wrought iron just south of Santa Monica Boulevard at 1005 N. Fairfax Ave., Goldberg continues to forge on without the aid of a financial backer or any real corporate sponsorship (small magazines and clothing labels help with invites and vino at openings). Keeping the doors open when you’re doing it by your lonesome is always a very real struggle. Add to that the recent surfeit of biannual/international invites to so many whom she first showed locally, and one wonders whether Goldberg ever finds herself pining in the “where’s mine?” chair.

“Look, I get to nurture young artists, help them plant the seeds and watch them grow and develop. For me, that’s the ultimate in personal growth and very much it’s own reward. I’m surrounded by amazing art all the time, and that’s really important to me. I mean, honestly, what could be cooler than that? Ultimately, it’s as close as I get to having the straight gig.”

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