Jack Goldstein Retrospective, Canceled at MOCA, Will Visit New York’s Jewish Museum

  • In 2010, after the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, hired Jeffrey Deitch as director, the museum canceled its planned retrospective of Jack Goldstein, a California artist who was central to the Pictures Generation in the 1970s and ’80s. The Orange County Museum of Art, in Newport Beach, Calif., then offered to host it, and it opened there last month.

    Now there is news that the show will come to New York, as critic Christopher Knight mentioned in a review of the OCMA’s show. The Jewish Museum will host the show, which is titled “Jack Goldstein x 10,000″ and curated by former MOCA senior curator Philipp Kaiser (who has since left to become director of Cologne’s Museum Ludwig), in Spring 2013. Its dates are May 10 to Sept. 29. The museum’s director, Claudia Gould, told The Observer that when she was still director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, the position she held before joining the Jewish Museum last year, that museum had considered taking on the show but scheduling issues prevented it.

    Three months ago, Ms. Gould was at a dinner party with artist Robert Longo, who sometimes showed alongside Goldstein in the 1980s. “We started talking about Jack Goldstein’s work, and I realized, ‘I have to call Orange County,'” Ms. Gould recalled. The OCMA’s director, Dennis Szakacs, told her that the show did not yet have an East Coast venue, and so the Jewish Museum would be able to present it. “We were lucky,” she said.

    “It would have been a missed opportunity for the exhibition not to go to New York,” Mr. Szakacs told us by phone. He said that the OCMA had considered a Goldstein show a number of years ago, but that it had not come together at the time. In 2009, it purchased a painting by the artist. “He was an important figure who wasn’t really in the collection,” he said. “It was just a gap that we needed to address.”

    The gap is not only at the OCMA. Many of Goldstein’s colleagues from the Pictures group, like Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine have had major museum shows in recent years that have all appeared in New York (at MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney, respectively), but this is Goldstein’s first American retrospective. It spans the length of his career, from his performance work in the early 1970s as a student at CalArts through the iconic short films he made over that decade to the meticulous photorealistic paintings of phenomena in night skies—lightning strikes, glowing moons—that he made with teams of assistants in the 1980s. His writings—he wrote aphorisms throughout his career—will also be included.

    Goldstein’s best known works are probably those 1970s short films, like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1975), which has that movie studio’s trademark lion roaring for a few minutes on loop or Shane (1975), in which a German Shepherd barks periodically. His films occasionally pop up in museum shows, and Mitchell-Innes & Nash and Metro Pictures have hosted posthumous surveys of his paintings, but it’s been difficult to see the full breadth of his work. (This summer offers a fine, albeit tiny exception: there’s a painting at the New Museum, a film at 303 and a record at Metro Pictures.)

    Much of Goldstein’s career was spent in California, making the OCMA’s rescue of the show apt. His family moved to L.A. from Montreal in his youth, and he got his bachelor’s degree at Chouinard, which became CalArts, where he got his MFA. (For one graduate degree project he buried himself underground, breathing through plastic tubes as an above-ground light connected to a stethoscope blinked along with his heartbeats.) He was also primarily in Southern California from the late 1980s until his suicide in 2003 at age 57.

    From 1974 to the late ’80s, though, he lived and worked in New York. His work was included in the 1977 Douglas Crimp–curated “Pictures” show at the Artists Space gallery, an exhibition that came to define an early postmodern approach to images in contemporary art. In the following decade he showed at Metro Pictures in Soho, and later with dealers Josh Baer and John Weber.

    The show has personal significance for Ms. Gould, who first met Goldstein when she was working at Artists Space in the early 1980s. “He would never remember me, of course, because I was an intern,” she told The Observer. That was her entry into the art world—Cindy Sherman worked at the front desk then, she said, and it was where she first met Messrs. Longo and Prince and other artists of her generation. She became director of Artists Space in 1994.

    As for why Goldstein is not more widely known, some have pointed to his struggle with depression and drug problems in the 1990s, when he rarely showed new work. In addition, his switch from film to immaculately handled large-scale paintings in the 1980s ran counter to the dominant modes of art making at the time. The paintings themselves cut against the popular Neo-Expressionist mode, and though he was financially successful for a period, those works were more difficult to square with the primarily photographic art being made by most of his Pictures colleagues.

    Of course, it’s never possible to fully know why some artists achieve quick, lasting, widespread success and others do not. “Sometimes it seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Mr. Szakacs said. But as times and tastes have changed in recent years, Goldstein’s stature has grown, and “since his death there has been this grand mythology about him,” Ms. Gould said.

    That legend is in no small part due to Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia, a book of oral histories with Goldstein and many of his friends and acquaintances, conducted by Richard Hertz, that came out in 2003, shortly after the artist’s death. The volume presents Goldstein as a hyper-talented and hyper-competitive artist. The art market boom was just beginning and he had a studio next to the “Watchtower” building near the Brooklyn Bridge, “where the Mafia would drop off dead bodies,” he told Mr. Hertz. In one interview, he talks about speeding across the bridge in Corvettes at 200 miles per hour, and taping his paintings so fastidiously for airbrushing that it “took two people a complete day to get all of the tape off one painting.”

    In another interview, Goldstein recalls that early on at CalArts, when he showed his work to one of his teachers, the now widely esteemed conceptual artist John Baldessari, he got no reaction. “I figured that if he wasn’t impressed, then there wasn’t anything to be impressed by,” he says. “If you’re going to be an artist, you have to be the best at what you do. Some people settle for a slot in between. I have always been oriented to the idea that if you’re not on top of the pile, there’s no reason for doing it at all.” Finally, New Yorkers will have a chance to see what he did about that.

    Update: 2:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this article misstated when plans for the show to travel to the Jewish Museum were announced.