After completing a philosophy degree at the University of Maryland (1963), Highstein became interested in fine art during his graduate studies at the University of Chicago (1963-1965). He took up painting at the Midway Studios while working on his philosophy thesis on notions of space in Renaissance theories of perspective. In 1965, he chose to abandon his studies entirely in order to pursue a career as an artist.
While studying drawing in New York (New York Studio School, 1966) and London (Royal Academy Schools, 1967-70), Highstein took note of the work of his contemporaries in exhibitions such as Primary Structures (Jewish Museum, New York, 1966) and When Attitudes Become Form (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1969). His first solo show was an installation at London's Lisson Gallery in 1968, which laid the ground for an ever-evolving sculptural and spatial practice that would span close to half a century. Upon his return to New York in 1970, he immediately became an instrumental figure of the city's alternative art scene, closely associated with both the Institute for Art and Urban Resources and the Anarchitecture Group at 112 Greene Street.
The geometrical approximations and primordial associations of Highstein's post-Minimalist work betray the intense attention to materials that informed his practice through the years. From the raw and hollow constructions in industrial materials (concrete, steel) of the early years, to the polished and carved natural materials (granite, wood) of his work since the 1980s, and the iron castings that bridge the two, Highstein's artistic practice revealed his roots as a student of philosophy and persistently investigated the relationship of sculpture to its spaces.
Written by a student in the Spring 2015 Public Sculpture class