Los Angeles

Jack Goldstein, Burning Window, 1977/2015, wood, Plexiglas, acrylic paint, lights, dimensions variable.

Jack Goldstein, Burning Window, 1977/2015, wood, Plexiglas, acrylic paint, lights, dimensions variable.

Jack Goldstein

Jack Goldstein, Burning Window, 1977/2015, wood, Plexiglas, acrylic paint, lights, dimensions variable.

Exhibiting three of Jack Goldstein’s lesser-known works—his Burning Window installation, 1977/2015, and two sets of text-based Aphorisms (both dated 1982) painted on the gallery wall—this show distilled a tension within Goldstein’s practice between mundane observation and metaphysical introspection. Burning Window consists of a single window frame containing four panes of textured Plexiglas placed in the center of a gallery wall that has been painted bloodred. Behind this window, flickering red lights give the appearance of fire. But this faux flame produces no heat. Instead, Burning Window effects an unsettling experience with its uneasy marriage of implied trauma and camp. No spectator of this installation would reasonably assume that Burning Window was intended to simulate an actual fire. Its reality is far more ambiguous. Goldstein commented in the compilation Portfolio Performance, 2001, that “the window functions as a ‘safe’ but fragile barrier in front of which the spectator is witness to the world outside as a measureless inferno.” Burning Window evokes film but is not quite “cinematic”; suggestive of a narrative, in actuality it more acutely dramatizes the staged quality of its moving images. Per Goldstein, the spectacle “calls into question the ‘truth’ of visual experience.”

Burning Window might seem to be a purely conjectural work—a Plato’s cave for postmodernists—whose theoretical function is to reveal the profound mediation of images and the psychological effects of that mediation within the material world. This reading is held in check, however, by the recollections of James Welling, who spent a great deal of time with Goldstein in the late 1970s after they graduated from John Baldessari’s celebrated Post Studio program at CalArts in Valencia. Welling notes in the catalogue to Goldstein’s 2012 retrospective at the Orange County Museum of Art that in early 1977, his friend “put a red wool blanket over his window so that he could sleep in late” and that “by late afternoon, the winter sun coming through the blanket created a fiery red window.” From this proto-version of Burning Window, we can gather that Goldstein’s subsequent installation initially arose from a specific solution that allowed him to sleep late, but that was subsequently repurposed to address broader concerns.

A similar passage from the mundane to the speculative characterizes the artist’s Aphorisms. These text-based works also date from the late ’70s, when Goldstein was in the habit of writing one-line statements on his typewriter and affixing them to his studio wall. Some of the first Aphorisms read as if penned by a connoisseur of the banal: “I ate a red fish for dinner.” Others are more existential in nature: “Tomorrow never comes.” In 1982, they had morphed into clusters of statements related to dual themes. One of the sets on view here, Aphorisms: If he doesn’t know what to do . . . , 1982, presents five of Goldstein’s apparent notes to himself, as if the artist were contextualizing his life as narrative: “If he doesn’t know what to do, put him in the situation and let him react.” The other set, Aphorisms: Sound is the space . . . , 1982, takes a more philosophical approach to sound/image relationships: “Sound is the location of image that fixes the image in time.”

Some three decades later, Goldstein’s practice remains elusive, despite the resurgence of critical and curatorial interest in the artist, who died in 2003. This show suggested that part of Goldstein’s slipperiness lies in the fact that his work never fully trod the same mass-media terrain as that of his Pictures-generation cohorts. Rather than foregrounding mediated images or forms of language, Goldstein’s Burning Window and Aphorisms instead demonstrate how his work operates in the interstice between institutionalized conventions of image/text relations and forms of meaning that attempt to transcend individual human experience.

James Nisbet