The Jack Goldstein painting exhibition opened at Metro Pictures tonight. All paintings on display were made from 1980 to 1985. I was excited because I had heard about these paintings for a long time, first through a teacher of mine and also because of reading Jack Goldstein and the Cal Arts Mafia back in September. I was so enthusiastic that I suppose I was due for a reality check.

While reading the book, Goldstein talked about how hard he worked on the paintings, about how the process of painting them morphed into something so intricate that it was akin to knitting, and that these paintings were designed to blow everyone else’s paintings off the wall. Well, there were a couple of nice ones at the show, but what blew me away was how dirty every single painting was. Numerous dust particles, bits of hair, and visible fingerprints clung to every canvas in the main room, making it impossible to forget that every single painting that I had come to see was over twenty years old. Ouch! These paintings need a conservator!

But if you can look past the four to eight pounds of dirt that must be clinging to the surface of these things I’m sure you would begin to find paintings of consequence again. Let me try to interpret what Goldstein was doing and you can be the judge as to how correct I come. Using images that had already traveled to him through magazines, books, or some other form of photo-print media, Goldstein framed somewhat overseen, but still nameless photos of WWII, weather, and a little later, images of heat as recorded by various kinds of scientific instruments as paintings. I believe that the photo sources for these works were so over-exposed to the public audience that they were to be understood as containers that had been emptied of meaning. An example of how this happens: by the mid 70’s a generation that had repeatedly watched Thursday night TV dramas about WWII combat was somewhat hard-put to look to a photograph of B-52’s in the air (or even one of Hitler) and separate the gravity of real events from the ridiculous theater they had grown up watching in the suburbs. By taking these used-up photos as starting points for paintings Goldstein was partially able to divorce content from his pictures. Since the photographs they depicted had very little currency in the meaning department, the paintings could begin to be understood as abstractions. Every detail of the photo then became an armature from which to hang paint. In the end a painting by Jack Goldstein was never really of anything, instead it was always another variation of air-brush-rendered hot pink streaks bent around a photograph.

It’s frightening how easily we become desensitized to images. It seems to me the thing Jack Goldstein was memorializing in paint was the carcass of certainty, and by extension the emotional satiability that we had always planned to attach to photographs. The falsehood of images is what he thought to be both terrible and beautiful. These images are and were meant to be the most vapid and empty paintings to ever exist. I would have expected a minimalist object to fill that niche, but some of this kind of work from the 80’s makes Judd and Flavin look like boy scouts. It’s American Psycho, it’s a bit living-dead, and it’s more than a little bit creepy.

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