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Jene Highstein was born on June 16, 1942, in Baltimore, USA. He earned a BA in philosophy from the University of Maryland in 1963, completed postgraduate work in philosophy at the University of Chicago, and committed himself to art practice in 1966. He then went on to study drawing at the New York Studio School before earning a Post Graduate Diploma from the Royal Academy Schools, London, in 1970. Highstein’s first solo exhibition took place at the Lisson Gallery, London, in 1968, and upon his return to New York he started showing at 112 Greene Street. In the mid-1970s he started exhibiting with Holly Solomon and ACE Gallery.
In the late 1960s, influenced by Minimalism, he began to work in large-scale, simplified sculptural forms, and monochromatic images on paper—often the formal foundation for future works, displayed along with sculptures. Highstein’s early works—curved steel sheets and geometric pipes—largely reflected the stark geometry and pristine surfaces of Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt. However, Highstein’s process evolved into the application and manipulation of wood, stone, glass, and concrete by hand, creating what appear to be organic, fundamental forms. These forms, though deliberately abstract and conceived in his studio, derived from experiences of nature or associations with it. Later works shifted from dark representations of negative space to paler forms that emphasized dimension and fullness, with subtly hand-shaped surfaces.
Highstein was awarded four National Endowment for the Arts grants, a John Simon Guggenheim Award, and a St. Gaudens Memorial Prize. His public sculptures are installed at sites including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Carnegie Bank collection, Stockholm; and the Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese, Italy; and he has had solo exhibitions at the Philips Collection, Washington, D.C. (1991); Art Museum of Memphis (2001); P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2003); and Madison Square Park, New York (2005), among others. Highstein also designed sets for theatre productions, working with the ELD Dance Company in Stockholm and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York. He died on April 27, 2013 in Salem, New York.