Jack Goldstein - Biography and Legacy
American Filmmaker, Performance Artist, Sound Artist, and Painter
San Bernadino, California
Biography of Jack Goldstein
Jack Goldstein was born in Montreal in 1945 to English and Canadian Jewish parents. He grew up in an abusive household, where his father regularly beat him and his mother. When his family moved to a Jewish neighborhood in Montreal, he felt like an outsider because he had not had a Bar Mitzvah, an important rite of passage in a young Jewish boy's life. In the face of this violence and trauma, Goldstein never learned to fight and avoided confrontation, cementing his reputation as a "timid and sensitive kid," in his words.
Goldstein was not exposed to much art at home but explored it at school as a teenager in the early 1960s when he moved with his family to Los Angeles. He felt that he did not fit in to the era's stereotypical male roles - the jock, the greaser, the surfer - and he did his own thing instead, concentrating on art and generally being a loner. Despite these adversities and lack of support, Goldstein made it into Chouinard Art Institute, which had recently been renamed California Institute of Art and transformed by Walt Disney and his brother into a new vision of an art school and which by the early 1960s had cemented a reputation for being progressive.
Early Training and Work
Goldstein received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Chouinard Art Institute in 1970. (In local parlance, the school was still known by its old name until it moved to a new campus in the Fall of that year.) Goldstein's most memorable painters were a diverse bunch - the Abstract Expressionists Emerson Woelffer and Mike Kanemitsu, the Minimalist Don Dudley, and the self-taught eclectic painter Guy Williams. Whith Chouinard's emphasis on craft, Goldstein credited his friend Hiro Kosaka with introducing him to Conceptualism.
In 1970, California Institute of Art, now known as CalArts, moved to a new location, and Goldstein continued taking classes, receiving a Master's Degree in 1972. The Conceptual artist John Baldessari started an innovative "Post Studio" class, which he envisioned as a post-medium class not concerned with traditional painting or sculpture, and Goldstein was among only 12 students in the early years of the new graduate course. Goldstein remembered that Baldessari showed them "a new attitude about what art could be, a way of investigating image making," and he began experimenting with found imagery. During graduate school, Goldstein befriended many of the artists that went on to be influential in his generation, including Cindy Sherman and David Salle. He also worked for artists Ed Kienholz and Peter Alexander. In 1970, he met and began a relationship with Helene Winer, Director of the Gallery at Pomona College, and an important figure for bringing different groups of artists together in Los Angeles.
After disagreements with the administration at Pomona College where she worked, Winer and Goldstein moved to New York in 1974, and in a few years she became Director of Artists' Space, a non-profit space where Goldstein and many of his peers would exhibit prior to moving on to commercial galleries. After meeting art historian Douglas Crimp, Goldstein was included in the influential Pictures exhibition held at Artists' Space in Autumn 1977. He showed work alongside Troy Brauntuch, Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith. Goldstein exhibited two films Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Shane, both from 1975. The exhibition was influential in the formation of what was to be known as critical Postmodernism. Goldstein said of he and his fellow artists at the time, "We were playing with the signs and images of the commercial world, which had formed all of us as we grew up watching television." Leaving behind the formal tradition, art, to Goldstein and his peers, was "playful and decorative, fast, ironic, even cartoon-like."
Despite Goldstein's influence and success, he came from a less secure economic background than many of the artists that surrounded him. He spoke honestly of his experience of working as an artist; he said that in the 20 years that he lived in New York he lived in "funky warehouses and sweatshops in all the boroughs," while his peer group lived in Manhattan.
In a move that surprised many, Goldstein who was primarily a conceptual filmmaker took up painting in 1979 in large part because of financial concerns after discussions with his long-time friend David Salle, who would go on to become one of the most successful Postmodern painters. His former partner Helene Winer moved on from the non-profit Artists' Space to open the commercial gallery Metro Pictures, and Goldstein was one of the first artists she exhibited. Having previously directed all of his work, now he had to decide how to make paintings. Goldstein worked with a number of assistants, who helped to produce his airbrushed paintings, and in the end, Goldstein produced around 500 paintings, reproducing sources from science and history books.
Goldstein left Metro Pictures in 1986 after the gallery had not sold one of his paintings for two years. Moving to the John Weber Gallery based in Chicago, between 1986 and 1991 Goldstein found financial success and lived in a large, though still inexpensive, loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a number of assistants working for him, but then he entered into other financial difficulties.
Goldstein removed himself from the art scene in the early 1990, returning to Los Angeles as sort of self- imposed exile, living in a trailer without water or electricity and doing menial work. Here he focused on writing, producing (as he estimated) a million pages, using language taken from a variety of sources and, as he put it, "writing his autobiography" in an aphoristic style.
Goldstein's work regained visibility after 2000, with exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in New York, at London's Cubitt gallery, as well as his 2002 retrospective in Grenoble. A few months before the book Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia was published, a project in which Goldstein himself spoke candidly of his experiences at CalArts, Goldstein, having struggled with depression and drug use, sadly took his own life.
The Legacy of Jack Goldstein
His lack of sustained commercial success and his self-imposed exile left Goldstein's reputation languishing until the start of the 21st century. Often remembered for his short, moving image works and inclusion in the influential Pictures exhibition, Goldstein's engaging and diverse body of multidisciplinary artwork addresses a deeper and wider set of concerns than the artists he is often affiliated with. David Salle, who cites Goldstein's influence, said, "Goldstein's work seems directly related to fears and anxiety about living in the world and yet, significantly, the look of the work is almost antiseptically divorced from any clichéd notion of the language of angst." Goldstein's innovative use of 16 mm film to achieve the effects and quality of Hollywood movies was an attempt to disrupt our understanding of those familiar images and to comment on our visual culture.
Additionally, his practice of moving between different media - performance, film, phonographic record, written aphorism, the painted image - is now very common among younger artists. While not a household name, Goldstein's influence is pervasive, from his contemporaries, including Robert Longo and Troy Brauntuch to more recent Post-Internet artists, who translate one or more visual sources into multiple media. His conceptual approach to image making was important to the Neo-Geo artists, like Ashley Bickerton, and filmmakers like Douglas Gordon owe much to Goldstein's innovations. His practice can be viewed as an enduring and multilayered exploration of the difference between living in and depicting the world of images. While certainly underappreciated in his lifetime, the resurgence of interest in Goldstein's practice following his death is a welcome recognition of his enduring importance.