The following essay appears in the catalog issued for the exhibition Continuum at 443 PAS Gallery in New York City, October 11-November 11, 2011.
“I think there have always been two central themes in my art- motion and permeability. The cosmos is always moving, always changing shape. We see things that seem to have edges and surfaces, but we know better. At the level of atoms objects are not solid at all. Everything is in a process of transformation.” – Daniel Joshua Goldstein
As a small boy playing in a lake during the summer Daniel Goldstein would throw handful after handful of water high into the air. He was transfixed by the shapes that spread themselves like diamonds, broke apart and vanished into the reflective surface. The mobiles of Alexander Calder gave Goldstein a model for capturing this experience in solid form. At age 15, while riding his bicycle near Lincoln Center, he met Calder who was installing his large piece “Le Guichet” (The Ticket Booth).
Parking his bike he approached his hero declaring “You are my favorite artist!” He still remembers the loud laugh and firm handshake Calder gave him. “He was like a benevolent bear.” This meeting had a profound impact on the young artist. In his last year of high school Goldstein’s mobiles were being sold by several Manhattan art dealers. By that time he had begun to remove the abstract objects attached to the curves of wire. “At one point one of the pieces I had attached to the arm of a mobile fell off. I realized that it was the line that most intrigued me. I began to see the mobile as a way to make drawings in the air, similar to the arcs made by the water in those summer lakes.”
As an undergraduate Goldstein discovered printmaking. He fell in love with the great Ukiyo-e printmakers of Japan and the woodblock prints of Edvard Munch. Goldstein followed Munch’s technique of cutting his woodblocks into parts, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each of these was inked with a separate color before reassembly and printing. Printmaking and sculpture would become equally important modes of expression for him. Goldstein’s graduate studies continued at St Martin’s in London. There he worked with another of his heroes the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. Although Caro encouraged him, Goldstein’s penchant for movement did not find approval from one of his other famous teachers, William Tucker, who announced “Sculpture should not move!” Such an exclamation was in keeping with the hallmark of Tucker’s own work: monumental immobility.
“In London much of my time was spent with filmmakers and fashion designers. Movement was intrinsic to their work. On certain projects I enlisted the help of my fashion friends to sew the flowing fabrics that were important components of my sculptures. They understood what I was doing much better than the sculpture department.” At this time Goldstein became the studio assistant to another sculptor just a few years his senior, who would eventually find fame as a film director, Derek Jarman.
While in England Goldstein was introduced by his then partner, David Dye, to the writings of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. Dye was a pioneer in experimental film and had also been Jarman’s teacher. Goldstein found inspiration in Bachelard’s meditations on the importance of spaces that inspire day-dreaming. While the point of his sculpture was to focus on movement, as in dance, Goldstein felt that his two dimensional work was about creating a place for reverie. The prints and collages produced by Goldstein in the 1970’s and early 80’s were concerned with the emotional resonance of landscape, rooms and objects. Goldstein often made prints in series. Movement was implied in a number of these by showing the passage of time, the seasonal transformations of a certain plant from spring to winter, the view from the same window looking out at the world at dawn, afternoon, dusk and evening. Reflections, the subtle nuances of color within shadows, these ephemeral “insubstantials” were as much the subjects of the works as the doorways, vessels and trees that inhabited the frame.
In the 1980’s Goldstein was a well-established printmaker and collage artist whose editions sold out. His first one man museum exhibition opened in 1983 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. In 1984 he was diagnosed with HIV. By 1986 the decimation wrought by AIDS had begun to alter Goldstein’s artistic and personal course. The loss of his long term partner and scores of friends, the premature death of his great mentor and champion Gene Baro (director of the Corcoran Gallery and curator at the Brooklyn Museum of Art) caused him to close his print studio so that he could focus entirely on sculpture.
“In those days I did not know how many years I had left to live. At that time AIDS was a death sentence. I knew if my days were numbered working in three dimensions had to be what I spent my time doing. My head was full of sculptural ideas that had to be made real.”
Permeability and change found ample expression in the following years as Goldstein created works that drew on all of the traditions that had influenced him: Calder’s mobiles, the geometric constructions of Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner and the minimal kinetic sculptures of Len Lye.
His color sense was in accord with the early Renaissance masters Giotto and Della Francesca. These found their way into the hanging pieces that Goldstein christened Jacob’s Ladders- aluminum rectangles painted in subtle gradations and hung at even intervals from wires.
“Fog”, in the current exhibition, is descended from these pieces and “Blue Wall” a kinetic wall-frieze which was commissioned for a private residence in San Francisco in the 1980′s .
On first viewing the work, one may be hard pressed to understand what part is actually moving. The gradations on the stationary background panels match the those that hang a few inches in front of them. These are turned slowly by the air currents in the room. This creates the sensation that the sculpture is endlessly dissolving and reconfiguring itself.
Goldstein’s focus on sculpture lead him to those materials that shared in the qualities of his meditative prints and early mobiles. He explains “Most of my large sculptures are hanging and made for public spaces. Expanded and anodized aluminum can be used on a large scale and still retain the properties of lightness, translucence, movability, the curves of the natural world.”
“Likewise, my figurative works created out of glassblower’s remnants or bronze mesh allowed me to express my experience of watching a whole life come apart, of seeing the people I loved the most vanish as if they had been made of smoke.” Goldstein’s suspended sculptures grew directly out of his own pictorial tradition and his witnessing of an entire generation annihilated by AIDS.
In 1993 several pieces known as the Icarian Series went on display in New York City. These were the worn down leather covers of exercise equipment from a gym frequented by gay men for more than a decade before the AIDS crisis. Strange angelic forms cover these surfaces as if burned there by atomic energy. Here was recorded the physical presence of thousands, wiped out by natural disaster and social indifference. Goldstein salvaged these skins and without modifying them in any way placed them into sealed boxes lined with felt and copper.
Sharing equally in the traditions of readymade and reliquary, the Icarian Series continues to be exhibited internationally; over half now reside in museum and private collections. Viewers sense the power of these works through an undestanding of their historical significance and their numinous appearance. In 1995 when Icarian II/Incline was included in the exhibition “Beyond Belief: Modern Art and the Religious Imagination”, Australian curator and art historian Rosemary Crumlin told Goldstein she would sometimes find visitors weeping openly before the object. “They are the epitome of a phrase that haunts me.” says Goldstein. “The presence of absence.”
This artistic investigation was continued by Goldstein in five life-size suspended figures made from AIDS medication paraphernalia. Three of these Medicine People were exhibited at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna in 2010. “Invisible Man” made of 864 syringes each tipped with a red crystal bead contains a human shaped void at the center of its shining aura of needles- an arresting figure of horror and hope.
Fifteen years after Goldstein’s “sculptural turn” in the late 1980’s, his fascination with movement and light brought him back to consider the possibilities of film. Although a 2-D medium, “the liveliest art” shares many of the morphological traits and theoretical concerns of dance and kinetic sculpture. “Two important influences on my creativity at this time were the Canadian animator Norman MacLaren and the Hollywood choreographer-director Busby Berkeley. In a sense I consider Berkeley to be the greatest kinetic sculptor of all time.” Goldstein began to collaborate with artist John Kapellas on a project in which television light was photographed through specially made stencils. “We were stunned by the patterns and colors that were generated by this process.” Pantheon, Ezekiel, Abre Sol, Great Chain of Being, and Grail are representative of this work, the basic elements of which are light and motion. “In certain situations our own movement added to the process. These photographs capture a dialog the two of us were having with light.”
In 2010 Goldstein began to take photographs of the last collages he had made before turning entirely to sculpture. These collages, titled Horizons, were the culmination of his print work, the distillation of his earliest concerns with the experience of natural phenomena, in this case the imaginary line created by sea and sky. Digital cutouts of these gradations were then layered, stretched and transformed.
“These new collages shocked me at first. They seemed like things from another world, simultaneously bizarre and familiar. There was also an instant feeling of connection to other artists who have given me that same uncanny feeling: Mark Rothko, Odilon Redon and Hilma af Klint.”
In the end Goldstein named this new series “For Redon”. The French symbolist had turned to color late in his life after focusing for decades on his brooding black and white graphic works and after facing major tragedies. His brilliant and glowing pastels of otherworldly manifestations resonated in many ways with Goldstein’s own aesthetic and transformational life experiences. In the words of Redon: “While I recognize the necessity for a basis of observed reality… true art lies in a reality that is felt.”
Goldstein is also a an HIV/AIDS activist and non-profit founder. He is one of the five interviewees featured in David Weissman and Bill Weber’s award-winning documentary “We Were Here”, now playing in select theaters nation-wide and at film festivals internationally.
at 443 PAS Gallery, New York, NY