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
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, 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
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