It’s hard to say which is more remarkable: a chance meeting with your idol in New York City, or that you’re a fifteen-year-old kid and your idol happens to be Alexander Calder. You’d have to ask Daniel Goldstein.
“It was a pure coincidence, and I remember Calder was wearing overalls and a flannel shirt,” recalls public artist Daniel Goldstein, who met the master on an autumn day in 1965 while bicycling through Lincoln Center. “He was installing Le Guichet right outside the Vivian Beaumont theater, and he was very kind.” They didn’t share more than a few words, but it was enough to make an impression on the developing artist, who had discovered the work of Calder and begun crafting his own mobiles at the age of twelve.
“I was always making things,” Goldstein says. “My mother regularly told me to go outside and get some fresh air, but I preferred to be creating things in my room.” This desire to create—paired with an upbringing in New York City and visits to its many museums—informed the beginning of what would become his own robust artistic career.
It was a path that would take a certain amount of fearlessness. At age sixteen, Goldstein approached Adi Fitzner at the Holland America Gallery, where he wanted to show his work. “I had so much chutzpah then,” he laughs. “Adi, who became a wonderful mentor and friend, told me, rightly, that my pieces were Calder knockoffs, so I went back home and worked on developing my own style.” He did and, remarkably, the gallery began selling Goldstein’s work shortly thereafter.
An undergraduate degree in urban studies convinced Goldstein that the study of culture was what most piqued his interest, so he proceeded to graduate school at London’s Saint Martins School of Art, where he would study with contemporary sculptor Anthony Caro. He finished his graduate work in art at San Francisco State and spent the next decade making prints and collage pieces before a health diagnosis would redirect his artistic journey.
Hospitals, Health, Healing
In 1985, after losing a partner to HIV, Goldstein himself was diagnosed with the disease, a pronouncement that served as a reminder that time is precious and spurred him to return to his passion for creating sculpture. Time spent in hospitals caring for himself and others served as further revelation.
“Hospitals were such sterile places back then, but they’re really important places, where life and death happens and where emotions are highly charged. As both a patient and a visitor, I felt like artwork could help give you the attitude you need to survive there.”
Goldstein felt that hospital lobbies were particularly important places to incorporate art and has focused much of his work there over the last three decades. “Hospital lobbies are really the gateway into this holy place of life and death, and I’m honored to receive so much work for these environments – it’s an important space for me and it’s very rewarding.” He completed his first hospital commission for Kaiser Medical Center for very little money so he would have the photographs to show for his public work. Published studies in the early 2000s on the benefits of art in healing further supported his work in healthcare settings, though he would also begin creating pieces for a variety of spaces, including train stations, office buildings, and plazas.
Goldstein strives to keep his mobile work for hospitals light, airy, and welcoming. Many moving laser-cut aluminum parts are designed to move slowly so as to engage the viewer and lend a sense of calm. “My pieces are really made to be uplifting,” he notes. “When people pray, they look up. When people think, they often look up. So the physical act of looking up really does something different to your brain—it gives you an alternate perspective to your surroundings, and I’m glad my sculptures are up there.”
Viewers are invited into Goldstein’s pieces by examining the negative spaces between the numerous small elements that make up the unified whole. “It’s always bothered me that traditional sculpture is so solid,” Goldstein notes. “At the molecular level, the world is made of many tiny parts, and everything is permeable. While solid sculpture tends to keep the viewers outside, my pieces invite the viewer to look ‘inside.’ I think this opens hearts and minds.”
The Inspirer and the Inspired
Goldstein’s many spectacular mobiles and kinetic sculptures are found in public and private spaces worldwide, and these very spaces play an essential role in his design process. Flow, commissioned by Kaiser Medical Center in Elk Grove, California, was informed by a nearby river, which Goldstein studied for some time before designing the many small arcs that made up the piece, a study of river and sun. Nature-inspired elements are also central to Goldstein’s work.
Breath of Life, which he created for Memorial Hospital in Modesto, California, is comprised of three sweeping curls of lustrous gold- and silver-colored crescents, suggesting wind or waves, depending who you ask. (A patient at the hospital receiving bi-weekly chemo treatments told Goldstein that while she and her nurse debated the meaning behind the sculpture, it was the only thing that made her feel good about coming to the hospital. “To get that kind of firsthand feedback about your work and know that it’s helping someone get through their day is really lovely,” Goldstein adds.)
The artist relies on a talented team of in-house and outsourced partners to realize his work, from client presentation to installation. Goldstein’s design proposals are a work of art in their own right, elegant 3D computer models demonstrating how the piece will look and move, and designed to dazzle and leave nothing to the client’s imagination. Studio manager Corey Kapellas, who has worked with Goldstein for fifteen years, serves as right-hand man, transforming designs into computer animations and overseeing in-studio assembly. A company in Iowa laser-cuts the work, while another in California anodizes the pieces. Goldstein’s welder lives nearby in the Bay Area – “there aren’t that many people who can weld aluminum, and he’s brilliant,” Goldstein enthuses. Another California company powder-coats each sculpture’s armature, which Goldstein carefully designs to look like it’s part of the piece, beautiful rather than mechanical. An experienced installation crews allows Goldstein to direct that process from the floor. “I’m actually afraid of heights,” he admits, “so I’m happy to have reached the point in my career where I can stand on the floor and point!”
Goldstein regularly experiments with new technologies and materials, most recently for a series of smaller sculptures and mobiles he’s been working on and plans to show this fall. “I’ve been working on pieces where I apply dichroic film to Plexiglas and it’s magical. I’d love to incorporate these materials, as well as light and LEDs, into my public sculpture at some point.”
Working on the smaller pieces allows Goldstein to open up to new ways of thinking and learning. Changing scale and material, playing, and experimenting are crucial to his creativity, the part of the work Goldstein finds most satisfying. A recent piece, Light on the Lake, a suspended work for the wall created for Mayo Clinic, derived inspiration from Monet’s Water Lilies. “I happened to be in Paris standing in front of Monet’s work, studying the tiny arc-shaped brush strokes, and I thought it would be really interesting to see those forms in three dimensions. It was the first time I’d created a piece that was more pictorial and it was really fun,” he concludes. “I would love to do more work like that.”