Jack Goldstein x 10,000 at the Orange County Museum of Art

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Jack Goldstein was one of those art stars who shine too brightly. Perhaps this seems more apparent knowing of his lifelong problems with depression and drugs and his tragic 2003 suicide.

A long overdue retrospective, first in the United States, Jack Goldstein x 10,000, surveys his films, paintings, records and books at the Orange County Museum of Art through September 9.

A graduate of Chouinard Art Institute, Goldstein became one of the first MFA students of John Baldessari in 1972 at the newly formed Cal Arts. As Baldessari's teaching assistant, he was influential for artists such as David Salle and Troy Brauntuch.

Goldstein moved to New York in 1974 and by the end of the 1970's were instrumental in a major shift in contemporary art, borrowing imagery – appropriating became the official term -- from photographic sources such as films, television and magazines to use in his art. (Read Richard Hertz's revealing chronicle Jack Goldstein and the Cal Arts Mafia for an even more detailed account.)

Jack Goldstein: Untitled, 1988
Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 72 in. (213 x 182 cm)
S.L. Simpson Collection, Toronto
Photo by Frank Tancredi

He was recognized as part of the 1980's Pictures Generation, with Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman and others, who approached their art from a critical and post-modern vantage point. The show begins with the work from the 1970's including 24 short films by the artist, which are shown here for the first time. Following the Conceptual films of Bruce Nauman, one notable inclusion is a film of a spotlight trying to capture the image of the artist as he darts about a darkened room, trying to evade detection. Goldstein also did sound installations such as speakers playing the recorded sounds of trains arriving and planes departing under a blue painted ceiling as sky, the sounds of past and present conflated.

But Goldstein is best known for the expansive, nocturnal paintings of the 1980's, which are radiant with the effects of light. One gallery features somber paintings of darkened buildings whose silhouettes are illuminated by the trails of jets and the exploding light. They look like scenes from old movies about World War II London during the blitz, not photographs of the actual city but eerily gorgeous renditions of a deadly ambiance.

Jack Goldstein: Untitled, 1983
Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 144 in. (213.4 x 365.8 cm)
Collection of B.Z. and Michael Schwartz, New York
Photo by TK

Also stunning are the nighttime landscapes of lightning showers pouring down from bruised clouds. Despite their romantic themes, the sleek surfaces and photographic sources give them a sense of reserve. Elegantly airbrushed, they were conceptualized by Goldstein but painted by paid assistants. Goldstein was an early adapter of this form of Conceptual painting, a method of extracting the personal touch from the work of art.

Yet, for all of Goldstein's purported desire to remove any trace of self, of autobiography from his work, the show as a whole seems both lavish and sad. There is a sense of alienation in nearly every work in the show. Monochrome painted panels of blue or black from 1979 feature tiny, isolated figures of individual parachutists or astronauts, figures wrapped in protective gear and floating in vast space. Would we attribute tragedy to these works if we didn't know of Goldstein's untimely end? At least this overdue exhibition solidifies his reputation as the important artist he so desperately hoped to become. Organized by Philipp Kaiser, who is now the director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the show continues through September 9.

Jack Goldstein's Untitled, 1981; Acrylic on canvas; 84 x 132 in. (213.4 x 335.3 cm) Collection of Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond J. Learsy; Photo by TK