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Jack Goldstein Photo

Jack Goldstein

American Filmmaker, Performance Artist, Sound Artist, and Painter

Born: September 27, 1945 - Montreal, Canada
Died: March 14, 2003 - San Bernadino, California
"It is only through distance that we can understand the world."
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Jack Goldstein
"It is only through distance that we can understand the world."
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Jack Goldstein
"It has always been important to me to have the guts to make monumental work, to make a big, grand statement. The art you make has to be yours; you stand behind it and it's real sturdy. It leans against the wall and it belongs to you."
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Jack Goldstein
"Art should be a trailer for the future."
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Jack Goldstein
"This spectacle, which may be felt ambiguously both 'real and as a 'cinematic' illusion, calls into question the 'truth' of visual experience."
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Jack Goldstein
"I never measured up to what I wanted to be."
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Jack Goldstein
"I was always a little crazed; and I knew there was no safety net for me"
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Jack Goldstein
"An explosive is beauty before its consequences"
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Jack Goldstein
"In a way, I ruined my life, but I did a body of work and for that body of work, it was worth ruining my life."
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Jack Goldstein

Summary of Jack Goldstein

Emerging from the critique of Minimalism and Pop Art forged by Conceptual Art, Jack Goldstein's provocative and challenging work ranged over performance, film, painting, and writing. Part of the Pictures Generation artists who came onto the scene in the late 1970s, Goldstein embraced a critical Postmodernism that questioned the role of authorship and originality and that strove to reveal the underlying, often ideological, ways in which images are made and circulated in mass culture.

While gaining some notoriety and success during his lifetime, the art world acclaim did not last, but his influence was widely felt by his peers, including several among the Pictures Generation artists, and younger, post-Conceptual painters and filmmakers such as Ashley Bickerton and Douglas Gordon. More sustained recognition from curators and scholars came in the early 2000s just before his death, and such focus has revealed how experimental and consequential his work has proven to be.


  • Though trained in traditional techniques, Jack Goldstein's tutelage under the Conceptual artist John Baldessari at Cal Arts in the early 1970s was consequential for his "Post-Studio" practice. Instead of creating original images in traditional processes, Goldstein used appropriated, or repurposed, images from mass culture in order to critique visual culture and how we interact with it.
  • Goldstein exploited the medium of film - using Hollywood-style techniques and effects and hiring actors and stuntmen - to expose our usually unthinking relationship with what we see on the screen and how we psychologically experience imagery.
  • Though painting was much maligned in the early day's of Postmodernism's theorization in the 1980s, Goldstein, along with other Post-Conceptual painters like David Salle, engaged the tradition of painting to question ideas of creative originality and to interrogate how images are made and read. As with his moving image work, Goldstein used painting to expose its inner-workings and critique society's image consumption.

Important Art by Jack Goldstein

Progression of Art


In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Jack Goldstein loops the familiar roaring lion that introduced films produced by the Hollywood film studio; the lion, isolated and framed by the curled golden film reels, is set against a bright red background. In Goldstein's film the lion roars repeatedly, no longer introducing a film, but rather becoming trapped in its own two minute cycle of repetition. Goldstein leaves the film studio's original Latin motto above the lion's head, Ars Gratia Artis, which translates to "Art for art's sake" and which takes on an ironic cast given the deliberately self-referential nature of his work.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was exhibited in Pictures, the important 1977 exhibition curated by art historian Douglas Crimp at Artists' Space in New York. Like many artworks produced by artists associated with the Pictures Generation, Goldstein's film serves to disrupt our relationship to familiar images and signs. For instance, through its repetition of the lion segment that preceded so many films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer shows that the footage of the lion roaring plays both forward and backward. As artist Jordan Kantor describes, "This attempt to pass off 'backward' for 'forward' - a quirk of the source material underscored by Goldstein's manipulation - stands as a particularly compelling visual analogy for the cyclical nature of history and exploitation, as well as for the endless diet of recycled stories Hollywood dishes out." This visual device, produced in the edit, and exposed by Goldstein through its isolation and repetition serves to demystify one of the many methods employed to make moving images so compelling. Another artist Jennifer Bolande has described how Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made the familiar film segment "become suspect." One of the most important uses of the simple, found footage in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer provided an astute criticism of our relationship to, and tendency to accept, the images that surround us.

2-minute 16 mm film


A Suite of Nine 7-Inch Records with Sound Effects

In this suite of audio works, Jack Goldstein appropriated sound effects and transferred them to nine separate 45rpm 7-inch vinyl records. Some of the sounds include A German Shepard (on red vinyl), The Tornado (on purple vinyl), Three Felled Trees (on green vinyl), and The Dying Wind (on clear vinyl), among others. In appropriating the sounds instead of recording them himself, Goldstein seeks to question the role of authorship and originality in the art making process. Goldstein, though, did purposefully choose the color of the vinyl records because of the associations with the particular sounds, hence the trees on green vinyl and the wind on clear vinyl.

In many ways, Goldstein transforms the sounds into images, into narratives. Friend and artist Jennifer Bolande recalls listening to the records for the first time: "Next he put on Three Felled Trees, a green record. You hear some chopping, then a tree falling. Then some more chopping, then another tree falls. Chop, chop. Chop, chop, then the record ends. In order to hear the final tree fall, you have to turn the record over. The interrelatedness of expectation, imaginative space and physical space was extraordinary, a kind of spectacle unfolding within my own mind." Bolande also spoke of the importance of the distance of the sounds; for instance, the dog barking sounds like it comes from several yards over, and she remembered Goldstein saying, "Distance equals control." As in his films, Goldstein manipulates familiar sounds so that we might notice them for the first time, but creating the distance is crucial, for to be critical, one must have distance.

Vinyl records and cardboard boxes, Edition of 100


Two Fencers

First performed in Geneva in 1976, Goldstein's performance calls to mind a cinematic image staged in real life. Two fencers duel under a controlled spotlight that isolates the men against a dark background. During the fight, the sound of a swashbuckling fight, reminiscent of a Hollywood movie soundtrack, can be heard. Once one of the fencers appears to have killed the other, the lights go down, but the sound of the fight keeps playing at a lower volume for a further seven minutes. As with much of his work, Goldstein does not participate in the work, preferring instead to distance himself and, therefore, ideas of authorship as well.

In staging the tableaux, Goldstein reveals the tensions in how we view film. Writer Vera Dika explains, "This strategy allows us to contemplate the machine-made movement, the spectral body in a series of consecutive poses, the Hollywood musical score, and the move memories that float through our consciousness, now defamilarized in a stage performance to show us the 'cinematic' as a specific kind of experience." Here Goldstein sets up an image in a highly restrained manner, limiting what he shows, and separates the relationship between image and sound. Like other Pictures Generation artists he tests our relationship to familiar imagery and asserts the dominance of visual culture in our production of memory and relationship to our everyday lives.



The Jump

The Jump, Goldstein's last short film, is a 26-second film of an animated, bright, glittering figure engaged in a twisting jump set against a black background; the footage is looped, creating a repetitive, mesmerizing spectacle for the viewer. Although kept secret for many years, Goldstein, fascinated with the spectacles the Nazis created, appropriated footage of a diver from Leni Riefenstahl's 1938 Nazi propaganda film Olympia; he then arranged for this footage to be rotoscoped, that is traced to remove the background context of the original image. He then filmed the original footage of the diver through a special effects lens, to create the shimmering figure. The viewer never sees the landing of the diver, creating an effect of anticipation, but because of the repetition, the viewer becomes quickly familiar with the jump's beginning.

By removing, even obscuring, the context of the original image, Goldstein asks the viewer not to concentrate on appropriation per se but to question the artificiality and the spectacular nature of the image itself. By deliberately adopting and mimicking the production values of industrialised visual culture, Goldstein set out to expose the structure of how images are presented and staged. In his 1979 reworked essay introducing the artists of the Pictures Generation, Douglas Crimp points to Goldstein's film as an example of how art, since the rise of Minimalism, has prioritized duration and the viewer's experience as a way to "stage a picture." In creating his film, Goldstein does not emphasize the temporality, or the duration, of the film itself but the temporality of the viewer's psychological anticipation of the action on the screen. Critic Marie Shurkus explains, "Thus, where most of the Pictures Generation's artworks demonstrated how imagistic frames produced 'ideological' content,...Goldstein's work underscored the more expressive qualities of images, which also shape and transform the meanings that pictures convey."

26-second 16 mm film


Burning Window

Viewers approach the installation Burning Window to peer through a window with a flickering light, but they cannot enter the room. The window is normal sized and made of a tinted red Plexiglas, behind which an electric light flickers to suggest a conflagration inside. Goldstein, writing of Burning Window, referred to staged events that were meant to be "felt ambiguously both as 'real' and as a 'cinematic' illusion." Like his films and sound works, ambiguity was critical to creating this in-between space that one struggles to locate or identify. Goldstein understood the viewer's urge to comprehend, locate, and classify, but art making offered the ideal space for exploring images and situations that might challenge and complicate our understanding of, and relationship to, the world.

In many ways Burning Window encapsulates many of the ideas associated with Postmodernism, which as critic James Nisbet explains is an attempt "to reveal the profound mediation of images and the psychological effects of that mediation within the material world." But as Nisbet also points out, the inspiration for Burning Window was far more mundane: he liked the effect created by the sun shining through a red blanket he had placed on his window so that he might sleep later into the day. Rooted in the everyday and in individual experience, Goldstein appropriated the episode to transcend the individual into something more culturally rooted.

Installation - Re-created in 2012 at the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California



When Goldstein moved away from performance and film work into Post-conceptual painting, he kept his practice of appropriating images and downplaying his authorial presence. Using found images from World War II battles, natural phenomenon, space, and satellite imagery, Goldstein's paintings hover between abstraction and familiar reality. In this Untitled painting, a central green form in a black space radiates shades of chartreuse, aqua, and violet until it dissipates into purplish wisps. Perhaps we're looking at an astrological event, but Goldstein emphasizes the abstractness and flatness of the images by painting iridescent silver bars evenly across the bottom edge of the painting.

Most of his paintings from the 1980s were painted by assistants with an airbrush, thus eschewing the artist's touch, a traditional, prized aspect of painting. While some considered Goldstein's turn to painting a selling-out, curator Douglas Fogle argues that it was in his paintings "that the artist completed his greatest disappearing act, appropriating images from the media world around him, both past and present, and then hiring technicians to render the images with the fewest traces of human presence possible." Interested in the role of technology in late-capitalist society, Goldstein's paintings point to the ways in which technology has become naturalized and how images are mediated through technology like photography, satellite imagery, and night vision cameras. In its quasi-familiar abstraction, Untitled is disorienting, and while its spectacular image draws the viewer in, it also distances the viewer, reminding them of the underlying structures of image-making.

Acrylic on canvas - The Broad, Los Angeles, California

Biography of Jack Goldstein


Jack Goldstein was born in Montreal in 1945 to English and Canadian Jewish parents. He grew up in an abusive household, where his father regularly beat him and his mother. When his family moved to a Jewish neighborhood in Montreal, he felt like an outsider because he had not had a Bar Mitzvah, an important rite of passage in a young Jewish boy's life. In the face of this violence and trauma, Goldstein never learned to fight and avoided confrontation, cementing his reputation as a "timid and sensitive kid," in his words.

Goldstein was not exposed to much art at home but explored it at school as a teenager in the early 1960s when he moved with his family to Los Angeles. He felt that he did not fit in to the era's stereotypical male roles - the jock, the greaser, the surfer - and he did his own thing instead, concentrating on art and generally being a loner. Despite these adversities and lack of support, Goldstein made it into Chouinard Art Institute, which had recently been renamed California Institute of Art and transformed by Walt Disney and his brother into a new vision of an art school and which by the early 1960s had cemented a reputation for being progressive.

Early Training and Work

Goldstein received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Chouinard Art Institute in 1970. (In local parlance, the school was still known by its old name until it moved to a new campus in the Fall of that year.) Goldstein's most memorable painters were a diverse bunch - the Abstract Expressionists Emerson Woelffer and Mike Kanemitsu, the Minimalist Don Dudley, and the self-taught eclectic painter Guy Williams. Whith Chouinard's emphasis on craft, Goldstein credited his friend Hiro Kosaka with introducing him to Conceptualism.

In 1970, California Institute of Art, now known as CalArts, moved to a new location, and Goldstein continued taking classes, receiving a Master's Degree in 1972. The Conceptual artist John Baldessari started an innovative "Post Studio" class, which he envisioned as a post-medium class not concerned with traditional painting or sculpture, and Goldstein was among only 12 students in the early years of the new graduate course. Goldstein remembered that Baldessari showed them "a new attitude about what art could be, a way of investigating image making," and he began experimenting with found imagery. During graduate school, Goldstein befriended many of the artists that went on to be influential in his generation, including Cindy Sherman and David Salle. He also worked for artists Ed Kienholz and Peter Alexander. In 1970, he met and began a relationship with Helene Winer, Director of the Gallery at Pomona College, and an important figure for bringing different groups of artists together in Los Angeles.

Mature Period

After disagreements with the administration at Pomona College where she worked, Winer and Goldstein moved to New York in 1974, and in a few years she became Director of Artists' Space, a non-profit space where Goldstein and many of his peers would exhibit prior to moving on to commercial galleries. After meeting art historian Douglas Crimp, Goldstein was included in the influential Pictures exhibition held at Artists' Space in Autumn 1977. He showed work alongside Troy Brauntuch, Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith. Goldstein exhibited two films Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Shane, both from 1975. The exhibition was influential in the formation of what was to be known as critical Postmodernism. Goldstein said of he and his fellow artists at the time, "We were playing with the signs and images of the commercial world, which had formed all of us as we grew up watching television." Leaving behind the formal tradition, art, to Goldstein and his peers, was "playful and decorative, fast, ironic, even cartoon-like."

Despite Goldstein's influence and success, he came from a less secure economic background than many of the artists that surrounded him. He spoke honestly of his experience of working as an artist; he said that in the 20 years that he lived in New York he lived in "funky warehouses and sweatshops in all the boroughs," while his peer group lived in Manhattan.

In a move that surprised many, Goldstein who was primarily a conceptual filmmaker took up painting in 1979 in large part because of financial concerns after discussions with his long-time friend David Salle, who would go on to become one of the most successful Postmodern painters. His former partner Helene Winer moved on from the non-profit Artists' Space to open the commercial gallery Metro Pictures, and Goldstein was one of the first artists she exhibited. Having previously directed all of his work, now he had to decide how to make paintings. Goldstein worked with a number of assistants, who helped to produce his airbrushed paintings, and in the end, Goldstein produced around 500 paintings, reproducing sources from science and history books.

Goldstein left Metro Pictures in 1986 after the gallery had not sold one of his paintings for two years. Moving to the John Weber Gallery based in Chicago, between 1986 and 1991 Goldstein found financial success and lived in a large, though still inexpensive, loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a number of assistants working for him, but then he entered into other financial difficulties.

Late Period

Goldstein removed himself from the art scene in the early 1990, returning to Los Angeles as sort of self- imposed exile, living in a trailer without water or electricity and doing menial work. Here he focused on writing, producing (as he estimated) a million pages, using language taken from a variety of sources and, as he put it, "writing his autobiography" in an aphoristic style.

Goldstein's work regained visibility after 2000, with exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in New York, at London's Cubitt gallery, as well as his 2002 retrospective in Grenoble. A few months before the book Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia was published, a project in which Goldstein himself spoke candidly of his experiences at CalArts, Goldstein, having struggled with depression and drug use, sadly took his own life.

The Legacy of Jack Goldstein

His lack of sustained commercial success and his self-imposed exile left Goldstein's reputation languishing until the start of the 21st century. Often remembered for his short, moving image works and inclusion in the influential Pictures exhibition, Goldstein's engaging and diverse body of multidisciplinary artwork addresses a deeper and wider set of concerns than the artists he is often affiliated with. David Salle, who cites Goldstein's influence, said, "Goldstein's work seems directly related to fears and anxiety about living in the world and yet, significantly, the look of the work is almost antiseptically divorced from any clichéd notion of the language of angst." Goldstein's innovative use of 16 mm film to achieve the effects and quality of Hollywood movies was an attempt to disrupt our understanding of those familiar images and to comment on our visual culture.

Additionally, his practice of moving between different media - performance, film, phonographic record, written aphorism, the painted image - is now very common among younger artists. While not a household name, Goldstein's influence is pervasive, from his contemporaries, including Robert Longo and Troy Brauntuch to more recent Post-Internet artists, who translate one or more visual sources into multiple media. His conceptual approach to image making was important to the Neo-Geo artists, like Ashley Bickerton, and filmmakers like Douglas Gordon owe much to Goldstein's innovations. His practice can be viewed as an enduring and multilayered exploration of the difference between living in and depicting the world of images. While certainly underappreciated in his lifetime, the resurgence of interest in Goldstein's practice following his death is a welcome recognition of his enduring importance.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Jack Goldstein
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Jennifer Bolande
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Claire Hope

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

"Jack Goldstein Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Claire Hope
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein
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First published on 12 May 2019. Updated and modified regularly
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