Violence Meets Solitude at Jewish Museum's Jack Goldstein Exhibit

Late Artist Spent His Career Trying To Disappear

Falling Man: Jack Goldstein’s 1978 film ‘The Jump’ depicts a man diving into darkness. The film proves an apt metaphor for the career of the late artist whose work is now on view at The Jewish Museum in New York.
james welling
Falling Man: Jack Goldstein’s 1978 film ‘The Jump’ depicts a man diving into darkness. The film proves an apt metaphor for the career of the late artist whose work is now on view at The Jewish Museum in New York.

By Adam Langer

Published June 04, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
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Goldstein himself was educated at the California Institute of Arts in the early 1970s and his work encompassed an astonishing variety of media. He moved to New York in 1974 before returning to California in the 1980s. The work on display at The Jewish Museum ranges from painting to minimalist sculpture to short film to installations to sound design, and ultimately, text.

You wander slowly, pensively, from one gallery to the next, experiencing the same sort of chilling, existential bummer you might get from, say, listening to early Pink Floyd or Major Tom-era David Bowie or watching “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It’s hard to say what a viewer’s sensation might be in a half-hour or so, when the upstairs crowd swills the last of the orange juice and coffee and makes its way down to the exhibition, overwhelming the silence with their footsteps and conversation.

But at this point in time, the effect is profoundly alienating. You step inside “Burning Window,” a 1977 Goldstein installation where a fiery orangeness seems to rage silently outside a four-paneled window. Is it your house that’s on fire? Or one nearby? Maybe both, maybe neither, or maybe the point is that it doesn’t matter anyway — you’ve already surrendered your identity.

In another gallery, there is a wall of nine monochromatic vinyl records whose sounds play as you contemplate their titles — “A German Shepherd” on red; “The Tornado” on purple; “Three Felled Trees” on green. You hear the drama around you, and yet at the same time you are made aware of your motionlessness and that of the records before you. Short, minimalist films are screened in a separate gallery.

They pare powerful and iconic images down to their barest essences. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film is reduced to one repetitive roar of a lion; color is seen glinting off the blade of a knife before the implement returns to silver and then to black. In Goldstein’s world, everything ultimately seems to fade to black.

Some of the most arresting work appears in a series of untitled paintings that Goldstein executed in the early 1980s when he turned natural and man-made conflagrations — bombings, volcanic eruptions, lightning storms — into arcs and crisscrossed patterns of light. The images are striking both for their violent beauty and the silence that seems to encompass them.


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