Who is Jack Goldstein?

Last week, while looking for things to do on the half-price ticket website, Goldstar, I found an ad for Jack Goldstein x 10,000 – A Retrospective at the Orange County Museum of Art.   I thought, Who the heck is Jack Goldstein and why does he deserve a retrospective?   And where the heck is the Orange County Museum of Art?   Well, the OCMA, as it’s usually nicknamed, is tucked away on a side street in the hotel district of Newport Beach.  Jack Goldstein is a longer … and sadder … story that we’d learn at the retrospective.   Several of the paintings shown on OCMA website intrigued me, so Muri and I decided to go last Friday. Tickets were $6 on Goldstar but there was a $3 per ticket service fee.  Senior tickets at the OCMA were $10, so we bought them there.  Museums need our dollars more than Goldstar these days.

Jack Goldstein was a Canadian born artist who graduated from the California Institute of the Arts and became the de facto leader of a group of avant garde artists who eventually became known as the Pictures Group in the late seventies.   In an article on Slate, by Jim Lewis says that, Goldstein and his peers were interested in pictures: photos from magazines and books, from stock film footage, from the vast, anxious, half-hidden portfolio in our minds. All would be treated as raw material, to be transformed, restaged, remade in such a way as to strip out specific details, context, and function, leaving only the essence of the image itself.  Goldstein is probably best known for his mini-films, film loops that play the same segment over and over, like The Jump.  That’s the sound of the projector you hear in the background.

He also made recordings on vinyl consisting mostly of sound effects and titled with names such as Two Wrestling Cats.  Just the kind of thing that sets me and my friend Ron off on our Is It Art? debates.  Much of it is peculiar art, I’ll say that, and also less amenable to sales, so Goldstein lagged behind his colleagues in financial success.  He turned to huge paintings, so-called Salon paintings often desired by the very rich, which was seen by some colleagues as selling out.  Again, the paintings borrowed from wartime photos, astronomy and science, spray painted in acrylics to attain a photo-like uniformity.   He sold some paintings but eventually in 1993, faced with the prospect of teaching art to manage financially, he disappeared into the desert, angry, depressed, using drugs.  In spite of a brief comeback of his work in 2001, he hanged himself in March of 2003.  Although he is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the eighties, many more successful artists whose work is derivative of his don’t even know him.

The Retrospective at OCMA included a broad range of his work, from his films projected on bare walls from noisy theater projectors to displays of his recordings with the sound playing over loudspeakers in the room or available on headphones.  Goldstein’s paintings dominate the show, if only because of their sheer size and number.   They include large multi-panel paintings of tiny astronauts or divers floating in dark space, perhaps reflecting Goldstein’s feelings of isolation, and huge nocturnal scenes of darkened buildings whose silhouettes are illuminated by the trails of jets and the exploding light.  Others show electrical storms or iridescent galaxies hovering in blue-black space.

courtesy kcrw.com

courtesy kcrw.com

courtesy kcrw.com

I found myself drawn to Goldstein’s paintings, humbled by their size and subject matter.  An excellent review of the show on kcrw.com suggests that, There is a sense of alienation in nearly every work in the show, and I think I felt that, too.   Perhaps that’s what Goldstein was trying to communicate in his work and, at the end, in his suicide.  Regardless, he touched me.  And yes, it’s art.  All of it.

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2 Comments on “Who is Jack Goldstein?”

  1. Cheryl P. Says:

    Ah, yes, the great debate of what is art. I would agree with you that this is art. Typically artists that are described as avant garde mean that I am not going to be a fan. I am still the person that isn’t concerned with much other than if it is pretty. Your flowers that you did with your software (sorry, I can’t remember the name of MAP-ah-whatever it is) was pretty. Feel free to shake your head and say…”what a shame she is so ignorant”.

  2. Coming East Says:

    Thank you for bringing attention to this artist. The older I get, the more I appreciate non-traditional artwork. I’ve come a long way from thinking that Norman Rockwell was my favorite artist!


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