Jack Goldstein, The Jump, 1978, 16mm color silent film, 26 seconds, ultraviolet light. Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, and the estate of Jack Goldstein.

Jack Goldstein's first American museum retrospective, opening this week at New York's Jewish Museum, offers a chance to reevaluate a key artist of the Pictures Generation. Guest curator Philip Kaiser (now director of Cologne's Museum Ludwig), organized "Jack Goldstein x 10,000" for the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, Calif., where the exhibition first opened last June. On view in New York May 10-Sept. 29, the retrospective is an appropriately bicoastal survey for an artist (1945-2003) who came of age during one of the most fertile periods for Conceptualism in Los Angeles before establishing himself as a canonical New York appropriation artist.

Goldstein's diverse body of work, which includes films, records, performances, paintings, texts and sound pieces, can feel highly impersonal. As Kaiser said in remarks at a press preview on Tuesday, Goldstein's work expresses a "desire to be anonymous-his desire to disappear." As a student at CalArts in the early 1970s, Goldstein was exposed to the self-effacing practices of Southern California artists like John Baldessari, Bas Jan Ader and Allen Ruppersberg. One of Goldstein's earliest performances involved spending the night buried underground in a coffin.

Goldstein frequently distanced himself from the physical production of his work. His well-known short films of the mid-1970s, for example, were made with professional film crews. Slick products like Shane (1975), in which a trained German shepherd simply barks for the camera, resemble surreal TV commercials stripped of the sales pitch.

In 1977 critic and curator Douglas Crimp included some of Goldstein's films in the seminal "Pictures" exhibition at New York's Artists Space along with work by Robert Longo, Sherrie Levine, Troy Brauntuch and Philip Smith. "Pictures" helped establish Goldstein's reputation as an artist concerned with appropriating images from the mass media, a strategy championed by sophisticated critics at the time. It is perhaps surprising, then, that Goldstein remains somewhat unknown compared to peers like Levine and Cindy Sherman.

The large paintings Goldstein made in the 1980s might account for this comparative obscurity. Sometimes viewed as artifacts from an overheated art market, the paintings are now overdue for a critical reassessment. Goldstein was a radically hands-off painter. After selecting spectacular photographs of war scenes, and, later, natural phenomena like lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions, Goldstein instructed assistants to reproduce the images on a massive scale using airbrushes to avoid leaving any trace of a painter's hand. (Goldstein signed these works only occasionally, and when he did he used a stencil of his name.)

While Goldstein's films and paintings may comprise his most familiar works, the exhibition also highlights the centrality of language to his practice. At a moment when so-called conceptual writing is being embraced in the worlds of art and poetry, Goldstein's strange aphoristic texts, composed of found language and clip art, may be the most prescient aspect of the exhibition.

Even if Goldstein's practice appears to bury romantic notions of authorship once and for all, his myth as an artist has remained alive and well. Goldstein's outsized personality and tragic biography have certainly shaped the reception of his work. His career trajectory, documented in Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia(Minneola), Richard Hertz's 2003 collection of interviews with Goldstein and his peers, can read like a moral allegory for the art world. A scrappy L.A. artist, Goldstein attained critical and market triumphs before succumbing to the excesses of success. The interviews in Hertz's book describe an artist adrift in world of expensive paintings, cocaine, and Corvettes. Goldstein disappeared from the art scene for most of the 1990s, and, after a brief resurgence, he committed suicide in 2003.

According to Kaiser, Goldstein's 16mm film installation The Jump (1978) establishes a leitmotif for the exhibition in its dynamic interplay of presence and absence. To create the film, Goldstein modified slow-motion footage of divers jumping into a pool. Isolated on a blank background, the divers appear to be encrusted with animated jewels that shimmer brightly before the figures vanish into a void.