Frankfurt

Jack Goldstein, Untitled, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 95".

Frankfurt

Jack Goldstein

MUSEUMᴹᴹᴷ FÜR MODERNE KUNST
Domstraße 10
October 3, 2009–January 10, 2010

Curated by Klaus Görner

For decades, the reception of Jack Goldstein’s work has followed a cyclical pattern, whereby the complexity and wide-ranging influence of the artist’s practice snap into focus every few years, only to fade back into relative obscurity soon thereafter—a fitting pattern, perhaps, for a man who staged his own disappearance in various ways throughout his life. Starting as a post-Minimal sculptor based in Los Angeles during the early 1970s, Goldstein quickly moved into performances and films. The latter were initially made within the confines of his studio but by 1973 incorporated Hollywood techniques, with the artist’s own hand giving way to a producer’s cool attitude, which extended as well to his work in installation, sound, painting, and text. Later, such withdrawals became more literal: Shortly after his first full-scale retrospective at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Canada, in 1991, Goldstein abandoned the art world; his work generally ceased to be exhibited until another survey was organized, at the very end of the decade, by Fareed Armaly at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart. Around that time, Goldstein initiated a tentative comeback culminating in his largest retrospective to date, in 2002 at the Centre National d’Art Contemporain de Grenoble (Le Magasin) in France. Within months, a second, smaller exhibition of his films opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, immediately raising his profile in the United States. (Helping to that end, he restaged a 1979 performance between two boxers under strobe lights in tandem with the show.) But this moment in the public eye would be Goldstein’s last: The artist took his own life the following year, and presentations of his work, in both institutional and commercial settings, have been erratic and partial ever since, usually focusing on a specific medium or a single body of work.

The diverse Goldstein retrospective that appears at Frankfurt’s Museum für Moderne Kunst this fall, by contrast, seems uniquely positioned to inscribe Goldstein’s multifarious work once and for all into the art world’s collective consciousness. The moment is ripe, for two reasons. First, as is often cruelly the case, the artist’s cult status has grown exponentially since his death. (Unfortunately, this posthumous recognition has been accompanied by a dubious mythologizing of his life and tragic end, which has dampened much of the radical yield of his artistic posture as both elusive artist and producer.) Second, we are now witnessing a definitive institutionalization of those artists associated with the “Pictures Generation”—to borrow the name of the exhibition recently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—to which Goldstein inescapably belongs. Indeed, he not only participated in key exhibitions and events for what seems (to some) the last coherent neo-avant-garde movement of global significance to come out of New York—including the original “Pictures” show curated in 1977 by Douglas Crimp at Artists Space—but helped an entire generation of politically engaged critics to gauge the terms of American art and, more important, to make a general prognosis on the fate of modernity in the artistic field.

Regarding the latter, it bears noting that Goldstein occupied something of an embattled, if emblematic, position. For instance, Crimp, writing in 1977, would place the artist foremost among those concerned with “the structure of signification, with that distance that separates us from the world and that constitutes our desire,” suggesting that he “maintains an allegiance to that radical aspiration that we continue to recognize as modernist.” But merely five years later, Craig Owens, writing in the pages of Art in America about Goldstein’s forays into painting, would suggest that Goldstein and his colleagues were complicit when it came to the reactionary forces in media they purported to critically engage. And this damning judgment would be echoed a decade later by Hal Foster, who, taking up Goldstein’s late “abstract” paintings, would see in them not any “cognitive mapping”—as advocated by Fredric Jameson—of advanced capitalist systems, but rather an endgame scenario: a full capitulation and awe before the effects of a capitalist sublime.

Today, such debates are receding from immediate memory or, more accurately, are as much in the process of becoming historicized as are Goldstein and his paintings’ cold-war, McLuhanesque phantasmagoria of foreboding cataclysm. One should also bear in mind that new generations of artists—many based in New York—have lately been seeking to redefine models of signification in our image-based sociopolitical reality. Many of these individuals do not so much build on the theoretical underpinnings of the Pictures artists as they profoundly displace the earlier presuppositions. In this context—and given this retrospective’s broad offering of twenty-five films and twenty-one canvases, along with drawings and records—it will be interesting to see what new Jack Goldstein emerges.