New York

Jack Goldstein

Mitchell-Innes & Nash/Metro Pictures

Around the turn of the millennium, as a widespread reappraisal of the art of Jack Goldstein (1945–2003) got underway—perhaps prompted by the 2001 re-creation at New York’s Artists Space of the seminal 1977 show “Pictures,” in which Goldstein appeared alongside Troy Brauntuch, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith—his work seemed suddenly to be everywhere, but it was rarely all together in one place. For those who didn’t make it to his 2002 retrospective at Le Magasin in Grenoble, a concurrent pair of recent New York shows offered the next best thing—a chance to compare significant portions of his oeuvre across time and media, albeit at two different galleries.

At Mitchell-Innes & Nash, a suite of Goldstein’s seven-inch sound-effects records were on view along with several of his paintings from the early ’80s and ten of his short sixteen-millimeter films dating from the mid- to late-’70s. In the back gallery, where the latter works were shown, an installation design devised by the artist in 1976 had been meticulously reproduced: The films were projected onto a white rectangle in the midst of an otherwise bright red wall. They were shown chronologically, progressing from a style just slightly removed from straight performance documentation (as in Portrait of Père Tanguy, 1974, in which a hand traces a reproduction of the titular van Gogh painting) to the more theatrical works—the barking German shepherd (Shane, 1975), the looped MGM lion (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1975)—for which the bicoastal artist availed himself of the animal trainers, cameramen, and technicians of Hollywood. As such, the films traced Goldstein’s thinking as it evolved toward a sensibility aligned with “Pictures”-style appropriation while ultimately constituting a thing unto itself, operating (as he put it in a 1977 interview with Morgan Fisher) “in the gap between Minimalism and Pop art.”

Toward the end of his filmmaking phase, Goldstein began deploying animation, most famously in The Jump, 1978, in which footage of a high diver is transformed, via rotoscoping, into the strange vision of a glimmering figure somersaulting into a void. But the aesthetics of animation—and its associations with the uncanny, with saturated color, and with other forms of popular twentieth-century expression like the circus—informed his work all along. The tracing in Père Tanguy recalls the vaudeville phenomenon of the “lightning sketcher,” which, after the advent of cinema, evolved into a staple of early cartoons: The artist’s live-action hand comes into the frame, manipulating his animated world and exposing its artifice. As a crystallization of the anxieties of representation, at once ludic and sinister, this venerable trope seems an apt metaphor for Goldstein’s enterprise, and one which might serve as a connection between his earlier work and his large-scale photo-based paintings of the early ’80s, a generous grouping of which were on view at Metro Pictures.

The paintings depict natural and man-made phenomena that exist in some uncertain state between the corporeal and ethereal: lightning bolts, ascendant rockets, luminous exhaust streaming from the wings of a fighter plane, fire, plumes of molten lava—light, in short, in all of its most glamorously dangerous forms, set against dark backgrounds that equate painterly space with atavistic night. Built from layers of acrylic paint, they achieve an almost Photorealist verisimilitude, but Goldstein’s colors—bright fluorescents and eerie greenish whites—are more suggestive of industrial imaging techniques than ordinary cameras. Pictures of intense kineticism that nevertheless seem frozen in glacial stasis due to the slick precision of their execution, the paintings are indeed, in the words of Ronald Jones, “spectacular instant[s]”—individual cels excised from some longer sequence of imaginary catastrophe.

Elizabeth Schambelan