The Jewish Museum // May 10-September 29
Modern Painters, November 2013
The push-pull between remove and affect ranks among the most important legacies of late 20th-century art production, eclipsing earlier formal concerns over the dialectical tension between abstraction and figuration. From Pop art to punk rock, artists amplified found imagery through re-presentation and manipulation. Yet the pictures Generation of the 1970s and ’80s—so named after Douglas Crimp’s influential 1977 “Pictures” exhibition—would drive this strategy to its end point, challenging issues of authorship and interpretation through its bald appropriations. One of the era’s most mythologized figures is the Canadian-born Goldstein, whose economical first American retrospective reaches new York after its controversial southern California venue switch from Jeffrey Deitch–run Los Angeles MOCA to the Orange County museum of Art last year—a fitting rejoinder to the artist’s contrarian reputation.
As a CalArts MFA student in the early ’70s, Goldstein quickly traded the precariously balanced Minimalist aesthetic of his early sculptures for an approach more aligned with John Baldessari’s famous post studio course and the resources of Hollywood. (The exhibition gives short shrift to these efforts, though Alexander Dumbadze’s catalogue essay provides thought for further discussion.) Recent surveys, like Douglas Eklund’s 2009 “The Pictures Generation, 1974–84” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, have revived interest in Goldstein’s 16 mm color films from the mid ’70s made on hollywood soundstages, and recorded collages of canned sound effects. This show, however, gains strength through a presentation of Goldstein’s more obscure early films.
The short actions, mostly shot in his studio, highlight Goldstein’s presence as performer and director. The dark, evocative Nail, 1971—his attempt to remove a nail from a board with his teeth, his face in close-up silhouette against a moody blue background—presages the almost fetishistic concerns of later cinematic vignettes like A Ballet Shoe and The Knife, both 1975. but the melancholic note struck by Jack, 1973—in which Goldstein, holding the camera, steps away from a friend calling his name over and over for 11 minutes against the backdrop of a mountain range—foreshadows the turn in the artist’s production (and his eventual suicide).
Goldstein’s later works would engage what Crimp termed “the psychologization of the image” through dramatization of freeze-frames. The artist assumed a hands-off directorial role in performances with professional actors and athletes, films produced with industry professionals, compilations of sound effects pressed onto colored vinyl, paintings of photographs or abstract systems executed through airbrushing or by assistants, and, finally, an “autobiography” composed of lifted philosophical citations. Here, the layout
privileges the undertheorized corpus of Goldstein’s records and paintings. The records—what the artist called “images of an eroticism without the body”—are relegated to the background as low volume ambient sound. The ’80s paintings, on the other hand, offer moments of surprise, though they failed to thrive in the Neo-Expressionist market and suffered from the critical backlash against painting by Goldstein’s anti-aesthetic champions. An untitled painting from 1985 of a photorealistic volcano, rendered in hot pinks and blues, retains a stubborn three-dimensionality with a not-quite-perfect scarlet-painted stretcher bar and silver edge. In retrospect, Goldstein’s work reveals much more than a cool, distanced attitude; tinged with sentimentality, it emphasizes the sublime narrative power of pictures even as it subverts it.