Ten years after the death of Jack Goldstein, the question should seem appropriate: "Where is Jack Goldstein?" Despite the survey of works presented at collector and writer Adam Lindemann's gallery, which includes an early film, a sound recording, and thirteen paintings executed between 1976 and 1986, no concrete attempt to answer this question is made. Instead the exhibition presents the artist as the enigma that he was, while providing ample evidence for his continued relevance. The larger project of extricating Goldstein and his work from their respective postmodern reliquaries began in earnest following his suicide and subsequently renewed visibility, and is perhaps to culminate in the New York bound exhibition “Jack Goldstein x 10,000,” opening at the Jewish Museum in May. As a former star of the Pictures Generation, Goldstein's story is now fairly well known, from the meteoric rise that began with his participation in Douglas Crimp’s “Pictures” show, through heady days as a Metro Pictures ringer, to his severe retreat from the art world and eventual decline toward itinerancy. Now, under the increasing scrutiny of revived awareness, the question might strike some as odd, nonetheless the responses provoked by Goldstein's life, death, and art are telling.
In a 1985 interview with Chris Dercon, Goldstein hinted that his images of destructive phenomena might be seen as a partial counterweight for the lack of the real in a thoroughly mediated world. Goldstein sourced photographs for his paintings, often images of scenes viewable only through complex technical instruments. Though they are little recognized, it is his paintings that most directly deal with this abstracted real that so fascinated him. The scenes painted, or more precisely, conceived, by Goldstein (then completed by assistants) are images of nothing less than a technocratic sublime in which phenomena, natural and manmade, clash with uncontained war machines while all teeters on the brink of cosmic catastrophe.
Jack Goldstein, Untitled, 1982 acrylic on canvas 84 x 144 inches; Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan.
Each of the paintings is airbrushed to remove stray traces of production; the scenes simply exist upon their canvases. Amidst the blood-red sky of Untitled (1984), an electrical storm rages, while in Untitled (Observatory) (1983), a backdrop of stars spin into dazzling circles behind the dark silhouette of the titular observatory. In the immense 1982 work, Untitled, rooftops reminiscent of wartime London are engulfed in the fusillade of a Blitzkrieg, the arcing trajectories of bombs defined with incredible fidelity in hundreds of brilliant striated lines of white. The images presented reflect the realities of our own now impossibly augmented seeing, and yet, there is no swelling of pride in the technological triumphs on display, no strains of American “Big Science” and its idealistic reengineering of the earth through sheer force of will. This iconography is post-nation, more cinematic than patriotic, an apotheosis of light that enchants and terrifies in equal measure.
The most curious response to the unanswered question of the show might be found in the Patsy Cline recordings that play continuously, as they did in Goldstein's studio, echoing through the austere gallery space. As technologic fires rain down in the brightly spotlit paintings, and the world appears to end in both the trajectory of a missile and a planetary eclipse, love is lost, remembered, mourned, and renewed in lingering strains. Goldstein's world is not a bright one, and when viewed together these works offer at best a cold sanctuary from a reality lost in images of its own destruction. For our world, adrift in violence so externalized that it is no longer seen or felt, what is being presented here has an eerie familiarity; it is that which we may well already know.
(Image on top: Jack Goldstein, Untitled, 1984, oil on canvas, 82 7:10 x 131 9:10 inches; Courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan.)