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The Elusive Jack Goldstein Reappears at the Jewish Museum (with videos)


James Welling, “Jack Goldstein, the Pacific Building, February 27, 1977,” 2012, inkjet print
Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects

This Jewish High Holiday season is a good moment for me to draw some attention to Jack Goldstein X 10,000 at the Jewish Museum, New York (to Sept. 29), an exhibition that has haunted me ever since I viewed it at last May’s press preview.

Moving me more deeply than most shows I’ve experienced, it has an elemental force, literally invoking the four elements—earth, fire, water, air.

Three of those four forces of nature figure in the piece that introduces the exhibition: “The Jump,” 1978, which is screened in its original 26-second, 16mm format at the museum, was also seen on a multitude of electronic billboards in Times Square every night last month from 11:57 p.m. to midnight. Midnight Moment: Jack Goldstein, a large-scale, digitally remastered adaptation of Goldstein’s more intimate, seminal work (showing a fiery red image of a diver somersaulting in air and then disappearing into water), was planned in conjunction with the Jewish Museum show as part of the ongoing contemporary art program of Times Square Alliance and the Times Square Advertising Coalition.

Below is the video that I took of the Great White Way’s Goldstein installation. Thanks to an invitation from the Jewish Museum, I shot it from the breathtaking birdseye vantage point of the picture window in the R-Lounge of the Renaissance Times Square hotel:

The disturbing cloud hanging over the Jewish Museum’s show of this influential but under-the-radar artist (an early student of John Baldessari at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, where Goldstein got his MFA) is the downward spiral, punctuated by repeated flashes of brilliance, that characterized his personal story. I had a very intense, idiosyncratic reaction to that tragic trajectory: I foolishly kept wondering if my late psychiatrist-uncle, a therapist for several famous artists and writers (some of them Jewish), might somehow have managed to rescue Goldstein.

Part of the artist’s hold on me had to do with his intriguing, yet frightening, elusiveness. His entire life, personally and professionally, was a series of vanishing acts, culminating in his final, self-willed destruction. As the exhibition’s curator, Philipp Kaiser (director of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne) remarked at the press preview, Goldstein’s work was imbued with the “leitmotif of his disappearance….There are so many Jack Goldsteins that you can hardly tell where the artist is.”

The Jewish Museum’s related symposium on Sept. 22, with an all-star artist’s panel, is appropriately titled, “Who is Jack Goldstein?” Although he is regarded as a member of the Pictures Generation, his oeuvre is unclassifiable. He omnivorously indulged in all manner of media—film, sculpture, installation, performance, writing, painting.

Here are a just few examples, for which neither images nor words to describe them can do full justice:


“Burning Window,” 1977
Courtesy of Estate of Jack Goldstein and 1301PE, Los Angeles © Estate of Jack Goldstein
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum


Screenshot of one of Goldstein’s best-known works:Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,” 1975, 3-minute, 16mm film
Courtesy of Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, and Estate of Jack Goldstein © Estate of Jack Goldstein
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum


Installation shot of the late atmospheric paintings
Left: Untitled, 1983 (Vanmoerkerke Collection, Ostend © Estate of Jack Goldstein)
Right: Untitled, 1983 (Collection of B.Z. and Michael Schwartz, New York © Estate of Jack Goldstein)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum


Installation shot of late cosmological paintings
Left: “Untitled,” 1988 (S.L. Simpson Collection, Toronto © Estate of Jack Goldstein)
Right: “Untitled,” 1988, acrylic on canvas (Courtesy Vanmoerkerke Collection, Ostend © Estate of Jack Goldstein)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Ironically, like Goldstein himself, this posthumous retrospective also almost disappeared: Originally planned for LA MOCA, it was erased from the schedule by its now lame-duck director, Jeffrey Deitch. Fortunately, it was rescued by Dennis Szakacs, director of the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA, where it was presented (in much larger form) last year. Claudia Gould, the contemporary art specialist who assumed the Jewish Museum’s directorship in fall 2011, rescued it for the city other than Los Angeles in which the artist had lived and worked.

At the press preview, Kaiser said this to me about the show’s LA MOCA cancelation:

I think it was very unfortunate. His [Goldstein’s] work is so instrumental for Southern California. I actually proposed the exhibition when I interviewed for MOCA….Paul Schimmel [then MOCA’s chief curator], who hired me, was of course very excited about the idea.

Then it got postponed. There was the Pacific Standard Time project, and I think that Jeffrey Deitch, the new director, had a concern that there were too many California exhibitions at the same time. It was his decision to cancel it….

The artist community was, I think, disappointed about that: A New Yorker comes and cancels a California artist. That’s the first thing you probably shouldn’t do. I think it would have been a very successful show for MOCA.…It’s not super-expensive to realize and there are so many artists in California who adored the work. Many generations have learned from him.

Now come join me at the Jewish Museum, via my CultureGrrl Video. You’ll hear Gould and Kaiser describe the show and its tortuous trajectory:

Speaking of tortuous trajectories, Szakacs, the show’s savior, has just announced that he will step down on Dec. 31, after 10 years in the directorship of the Orange County Museum, in order to “explore new opportunities.”

Could a post at the post-Deitch MOCA, or even at the Gould-renewed Jewish Museum, be in prospect?

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