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Jene Highstein was born on June 16, 1942, in Baltimore. He earned a BA in philosophy from the University of Maryland in 1963, completed postgraduate studies in philosophy at the University of Chicago, and began practing art in 1966. He then went on to study drawing at the New York Studio School before earning a postgraduate 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, Highstein began to create in large-scale works with simplified sculptural forms, and monochromatic images on paper—often the formal foundation for future works, displayed alongside 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 a manipulation of wood, stone, and glass, 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 in sites including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Carnegie Bank, Stockholm; and the Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese, Italy. He also had solo exhibitions at the Philips Collection, Washington, D.C., in 1991; the Art Museum of Memphis, in 2001; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, in 2003; Madison Square Park, New York, in 2005; and others. Highstein also designed sets for theatre productions, working with the ELD Dance Company in Stockholm and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York. Highstein died on April 27, 2013 in Salem, New York.