Doug Eklund, associate curator in the Department of Photographs, speaks with the artist Dan Graham about Jack Goldstein's 1976 series called A Suite of Nine 7-Inch Records with Sound Effects. The records are on display in the exhibition The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984, and visitors to the Museum can listen to them in the galleries.
Doug Eklund: My name is Doug Eklund. I'm associate curator in the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum and I'm the curator of an exhibition that runs through August 2 entitled The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984.
I'm here with the artist Dan Graham and we're going to be talking today about the nine records with sound effects by Jack Goldstein from 1976.
Dan Graham: I used to have all the records, but I think I loaned them to people and never got them back. So I only have a vague memory. But when I first met Jack, I was kind of an unsuccessful artist, although I'd done some big pieces, and I went to a very cheap Chinese restaurant to get a cheap meal, and there was Jack and Helene Wiener. They went to the same restaurant. Jack seemed to be a little depressed. And it was a kind of depressing meal, and he gave me the records.
Doug Eklund: Did you know him before then, or was that the first time you met him?
Dan Graham: No, it was the first time I met him. I think he probably was an admirer of my work, but he also thought that maybe I would appreciate his work, because I think he was totally unknown then.
Doug Eklund: It's this series of records that's called A Suite of Nine Records with Sound Effects. And you look at them and they look like they're 45-rpm singles, just like you'd get a Beatles single or a Rolling Stones single, except for the sleeves are all white, and in this very bureaucratic, blank font it says "Three Felled Trees" or "Two Wrestling Cats." And that's all there is on the sleeve. And then you take the record out of the sleeve and each record is colored a different color. So, like, the record that is the tornado sound effect—it's a purple disc. And the one that's the trees being chopped down, I think, when you play the record on one side, it's the trees being chopped and then when you turn the record over, it's the trees falling over. So we're talking about these records that use stock sound effects from Hollywood movies, things like that, and radio.
Dan Graham: You said the wrestling cats; I remember drowning cats.
Doug Eklund: Oh, yes, there is. There's . . .
Dan Graham: "Glub, glub, glub?"
Doug Eklund: Yeah, yeah, no, that's the "Six-Minute Drown," I think. The man drowning for six minutes.
Dan Graham: Oh, "Six-Minute Drown," I see. See, my memory isn't that good. There is a kind of sinister humor there, but there is humor.
Doug Eklund: Right. I guess he had a dark sense of humor about his work.
Dan Graham: Also, I have to mention, talking about humor—"Three Wrestling Cats," although it's terrifying, it's rather humorous, right?
Doug Eklund: Right.
Dan Graham: Well, I think, he and Walter de Maria have something in common. They're both Libras, astrologically speaking, and Libras, I know, like peace. They like to smile a lot and they're afraid of violence. And yet my friend Glenn Branca, who is a Libra, did one of his early songs for Static. It had a line, "I kill in my dreams."
Doug Eklund: Mm-hmm.
Dan Graham: And I think somehow underneath Walter de Maria, and even more so, Jack, there's the fact that fascism and violence underlay the niceness of America's advertising-oriented culture.
Doug Eklund: Right, so . . .
Dan Graham: And, for me, the MGM lion roaring, really shows that. Because you have a corporate symbol, which is supposed to denote courage and dynamism, and underneath, it's fearsome.
Doug Eklund: Right.
Dan Graham: And I think Jack was going back a little in time, because the records, the records actually, were actually from sound effects libraries, and they have a lot to do with radio. So it's the underpinnings of media, but probably he has childhood memory. And, of course, cartoons, which I didn't see when I was a child, are also very frightening.
Doug Eklund: Right, yeah. So, the records, Jack handed them to you and described to you what they were?
Dan Graham: He didn't describe anything. I actually didn't understand the work at first. I think I read someplace, in an interview, they said that they're from, they're—you go to a library, and they're kind of stock things that are used actually for radio plays.
Doug Eklund: With Jack Goldstein's records—we're not able to have a turntable in the galleries, so we're going to have the records on the wall and you'll be able to listen to them on headphones. Do you think that something is lost in the aspect of playing the records?
Dan Graham: No, I think this is—when I have my retrospective shows, I also use earphones. I think it's very necessary to do that for a museum situation.
I also was aware that, in some ways, he was undercutting the generation which was Minimal art. And of course, in my own way, in my own work, I was actually changing—I was making Minimal art into something more involved with inter-subjectivity of spectators.
Doug Eklund: Right.
Dan Graham: But I think the psychological aspects were overwhelmingly interesting to me in his work.
Doug Eklund: Do you think that what was terrifying about them and what was different about them from Minimalism was that Minimalism had repressed the image and the records were bringing the image back but in a very distanced form that caused a kind of—they're humorous, but they're also sort of terrifying.
Dan Graham: Well, I think Minimal artists—and myself—we hated Duchamp, because the work comes from Russian Constructivism, but actually Jasper Johns, I think, who was influenced a little bit by Duchamp, Jasper Johns actually was an inspiration for Minimal art. And it's going back to—Jack's work is like going back to Jasper Johns. His work with the American flag, and the Ballantine beer can is also about psychological terror behind American logos.
Doug Eklund: There's something that David Salle says that I wanted to read to you. This is a great essay about how he records Drowning Man: "What we’re asked to consider in these films and records and photo pieces is that Goldstein needs to make a phony record of a drowning man in order to avoid becoming a real one." Which I think is pretty great, and it talks about that fear of violence, you know, that you were talking about.
Did the records have any influence on your own work, or did they serve, like, something that you had wanted to see in art that you hadn't seen in a while? Or did it represent a new dealing with Pop art, maybe, that was not so critically respected, maybe, in the seventies? Or what did you take away from them? Did they influence your work at all or anything?
Dan Graham: Well, as you know, I consider myself an artist-writer, like Smithson or Dan Flavin. And my writing was often—like, in the article about Dean Martin—was about what academics would call cultural studies. So, in a certain sense, when I wrote "End of Liberalism," I wanted to combine insights about Ronald Reagan and media with my interest in Dean Martin TV. And I've always been interested in media forms from the very beginning. And I think Jack is dealing directly with media forms. And I think, also, art tries to be subversive by bringing up things that people don't want to deal with that are right under their nose.
Doug Eklund: Right. So they were almost like—these records were objects that made you . . . they were objects that were media, they were in the circulation of objects in the media, but then they made you think about the media itself, and the effect that the media has.
Did Jack—when Jack started making paintings again, after the films and records, did you consider that less successful than the films and records?
Dan Graham: Well, everything is in retrospect. Because in retrospect, I've seen some amazing paintings of his work in museum collections. And of course he was trying to do work that was commercial but also subversive at the same time, so it was . . .
Doug Eklund: Right.
Dan Graham: Because his work was totally unsuccessful, when it was records. And it reminded me of my early conceptual pieces for magazine pages—they were totally unsuccessful, and people didn't see them because they weren't labeled as art. So I think he was trying to label something as art and still undercut . . . in a way there was a kind of calculation, maybe, again, a strategy, and I don't think it worked in the beginning.
Doug Eklund: Right.
Dan Graham: Jack was trying to get out of being totally unknown and unsuccessful. It was only later that I saw his paintings. And I think they were probably experiments. Some would work and some didn't work.
Doug Eklund: Yeah, they're some of the most successful works that I know, and what I was trying to get at was, when you handle them, there's this bodily engagement and your, sort of, your trace memory of all the records you've listened to, and then when you hear this copy of a copy of a copy of a barking dog, your mind has that image, which is—you fill in with other images of dogs. Like, you may think of guard dogs in World War II movies, or, you know, the German shepherds in Warhol's race-riot paintings—all those images of dogs come flooding back to you. So there's this kind of distance that's created by the endless copies of copies of this sound. And yet it's like incredibly poignant, or, it hits you and it's almost a way of creating an image in the mind of the listener.
Dan Graham: I also think, because I can understand this, I think Jack was afraid of success.
Doug Eklund: Jack Goldstein was an artist who was in California at a school called Chouinard, which was . . .
Dan Graham: Chouinard.
Doug Eklund: Yeah, and Chouinard was, kind of, the art school that was replaced by Cal Arts. And when Cal Arts started in 1970, their idea was to bring conceptual artists, Fluxus artists, to be the teachers. John Baldessari was hired as a professor of painting but when he got there he said, "I'm not making paintings," so he started something he called "post-studio" art, which was basically art that didn't involve the traditional mediums.
Dan Graham: And he influenced his students enormously and I think Baldessari brought in so many different influences to his students.
Doug Eklund: Mm-hmm. Baldessari—Jack Goldstein was one of Baldessari's first teaching assistants. And Jack Goldstein, at the time, was making what we would consider Minimal, Post-Minimal sculptures. He would put a sheet of glass on a bed of upturned nails, so that the work was incredibly formally elegant and refined and had an almost Zen-like beauty, but they were always infused with this kind of danger or dread. And so it was really when he started being a student of John Baldessari and he was surrounded by these very ambitious students, like David Salle and James Welling, that Jack Goldstein made this leap into making works that were films, in which he would appropriate, let's say, the MGM lion from the opening credits, and repeat it over and over again on a very high-key background, or made this series of sound-effects records.
Dan Graham: It also could be because Jack was living in Los Angeles. And actually Cal Arts was created by Roy Disney.
Doug Eklund: Exactly.
Dan Graham: To feed into the film industry. In other words, it was supposed to be an academy for people who work in the film industry.
Doug Eklund: And Jack used Hollywood technicians to make the films and the records. I mean, it was all about that factory aesthetic of farming out the work to professionalize technicians to make a work that had that kind of sheen and surface.
I think that some of the sound effects he used were of animals a lot of the time—so, a dog, a single barking dog. He also had one of wrestling cats, which is funny. It's mostly funny, because it's this sound that you would never, hopefully, hear in real life, but you've probably heard it, of two cats, you know, and it does sound like Tom and Jerry or something.
Dan Graham: It's also—you have to go back to Disney just because Disney kind of humanized animals.
Doug Eklund: Right. And there's something deeply disturbing about that. And so, I think you're right, he was using these sound effects—like a barking dog or wrestling cats—that would have been sound effects that are recognized in our unconscious from watching cartoons and all of that stuff. And so, Jack Goldstein was referring back to that period of his youth and that kind of forced happiness of the fifties and that kind of thing. But bringing it back in an estranged form that causes a kind of terror. Other sounds in the records are of the three felled trees, a six-minute clip of a man drowning. And those are things that you would hopefully never experience in real life.
Dan Graham: I'm thinking about something else, also, because in the late fifties, with Zen Buddhism, there was this interest in haiku, the haiku form. And it seems like this is a little like a haiku form, right?
Doug Eklund: Right. There's a brevity and a shortness to these works—the fact that they're just three minutes and it's over, thirty seconds and it's over—that's going against maybe the sort of long, you know, the Lamont Young, the twenty-four-hour drone, and that kind of thing. It's, like, much more concise and aphoristic almost. I know Jack Goldstein was really a master of the short, you know, appropriated quote and that kind of thing.
Dan Graham: In other words, what we call "singles."
Doug Eklund: Singles, exactly. It's the three-minute pop song. It's that hitting you with that direction, you know, but something that lingers for a long time after you play it.
Dan Graham: But, of course, advertising had to do the same thing, television advertising.
Doug Eklund: Yeah. I don't think Jack Goldstein's records could have been made anywhere other than Hollywood. I mean, it was really about being in that environment.
Jack Goldstein was born in 1945 and he was Canadian, from Montreal. But he made these films and records while he was moving between Los Angeles and New York. And these records that are in the exhibition were shown in this seminal exhibition at Artists Space in 1977 called "Pictures." And Jack Goldstein died, took his own life, in 2003. And it was just at that time that a lot of curators and artists were interested in his work again. But he had really stopped making art at that point, I believe.
Dan Graham: We should also mention that the director of Artists Space was the person who discovered him, his girlfriend, Helene Wiener, who founded Metro Pictures. And Metro Pictures has a lot to do with Jack Goldstein.
Doug Eklund: Right. The artists that were in the original "Pictures" exhibition were artists that were discovered, essentially, by Helene, and she was the director of Artists Space. And when she went on to form Metro Pictures in 1980, which was a gallery that showed a lot of these artists, Jack Goldstein was still very close with Helene and I think he actually named the gallery, if I'm not mistaken, and, of course, the name of the gallery makes it sound as if it's a movie studio, and so it has those direct associations with popular culture.
Jack Goldstein—at the end of his life his career was resurrected and he had a show of his films at the Whitney Museum. And he came back from California and did an interview at the Whitney Museum. And Jack was already sort of on a downward spiral and I think that this belated recognition of him so late in life, was kind of like he just looked at it as too little and too late.
The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984
is made possible by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation.
Additional support is provided by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.
This interview was recorded on March 12, 2009.