Among the seventy fascinatingly varied works on view in this decades-spanning show is an untitled piece, from 1973, that meets the barest definition of a collage—it’s a single rose, cut carefully from a black-and-white photo, floating on a white background. With this breezy, refined gesture, the artist, who worked in the San Francisco Bay area until her death, in 1989, conjures her most famous painting, “The Rose,” from 1958-1966, which, as a Sisyphean two-ton grisaille relief, could not be more different.
DeFeo was after something other than a chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella. For her, surrealism was not a technique, but a state of seeing and experiencing everyday life.
In dream analysis, it’s said that the familiar nightmare of one’s teeth falling out represents anxiety over the possible loss of control. Fading beauty, or an inability to communicate might cause such a dream, but so too might a more catastrophic event: an illness or an eviction, perhaps. For artist Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) any of these occurrences could have provoked such a night terror, and walking through Outrageous Fortune: Jay DeFeo and Surrealism at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, one can’t help but wonder if teeth dreams had plagued her. The exhibition takes as its premise the thrum of Surrealism that murmurs through DeFeo’s body of work, and the reappearance of teeth is one of several tropes that surface.
It is in the post-Rose period that DeFeo experimented with new techniques or applications, things like cameraless photography and collage. Bruce Conner, the Rat Bastard leader, had suggested that DeFeo take pictures of the “things [around her] and turn them into other stuff . . . collage things.”) As described in the exhibition’s catalog by Dana Miller, The Whitney Museum’s Director of the Collection, DeFeo’s experiments, which the artist described as play, “meant not only taking risks, but also, at key moments, sharing authorship with forces of nature, randomness, or accident.” The irony is how DeFeo would come to embrace chance after methodically working on The Rose—one work—for nearly eight years.
In the career of Jay DeFeo, her astonishing painting The Rose (1958–66) casts a long shadow. Spanning almost 11 by eight feet, it has a primordial-looking surface of oil paint mixed with wood and mica so heavily built up and excavated that it weighs more than a ton. This abstract, sculptural canvas, with radiating vectors that converge at a center point, occupied DeFeo for eight years—consuming her entirely for the last five of those. The Rose acquired mythic status when the artist Bruce Conner, her close friend, filmed it being cut out of the window of DeFeo’s Fillmore Street studio in San Francisco, in 1965, then hoisted by forklift onto a truck, and transported to the Pasadena Art Museum.
This will be the gallery’s second exhibition of these artists and the first time the two will be exhibited together. The exhibition showcases the relation between the works of the artists which are based on the process of making drawings.
This installation of the DeFeo's “Samurai” series, 1986–87, begins to redress this narrative, as many of these large-format paintings on paper refute the notion of a singularly careful and slow-working painter.
This exhibition--which focused on Jay DeFeo's production following her three-year hiatus from artmaking after her completion of The Rose, 1958-66, her famous, one-ton painting of a burst of white light--gathered forty-nine pieces from the last fifteen years of the artist's life, several of which were absent from her recent traveling US retrospective. DeFeo, whos early work was animated by jazz and Beat subcultures and by the varied frequencies coursing through the San Francisco Renaissance, was also well known for her round-the-clock, sedulous-yet-playful ingenuity. She worked quickly until the end; many of the pieces here were produced in the last four years of her life, the most industrious period of her career.
The Rose, DeFeo's sculpture-cum-painting over which she lavored for eight years, dominated discussions of her retrospective last year. This show of drawings, photographs, and collages, free from the shadow of its myth, allows consideration of her wry improvisations and neo-Surrealist approach.
A riveting follow-up to last year’s Jay DeFeo retrospective at the Whitney Museum, this exhibition of drawings, photographs and photocopies finds this artist moving past her ponderous masterpiece, “The Rose,” in fits and starts.
"That's why a show like the one currently up at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, which homes in on her post-“Rose” output until her death in 1989, is still direly important. The gallery curators have mined DeFeo’s archives to present works never before exhibited, including photographs, photocopies, and collages, next to more well-known pieces such as “Tuxedo Junction” (1965/1974) and “Seven Pillars of Wisdom No. 6” (1989). Laid out according to subject rather than chronology, the effect is that of a forensic case study, tracing a path from the everyday objects she called her “models” to her “portraits” — incisive studies she made across media — to her paintings, where the original subject is less abstracted than obscured by the history of her experimentation and transformations."
Author and scholar Paul Sternberger reviews Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective, the exhibition catalogue published in conjunction with the Whitney Museum of American Art's recent retrospective of the same name. This retrospective is the definitive exhibition to date of the work of Jay DeFeo (1929–89).
The catalogue was written by Dana Miller, Curator of the Whitney's Permanent Collection, with contributions by Michael Duncan, Corey Keller, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, and Greil Marcus.
The museum is taking on another difficult and sometimes discounted artist—Jay DeFeo, best known for a flower of her own (The Rose, 1958–66)—by mounting an elegant and revelatory retrospective.
“Anything for Jay” is a phrase that Dana Miller, the curator of “Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, heard time and again when asking for research help for the show.