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Beside The Rose: Selected Works by Jay DeFeo 


This fall, the Whitney Museum of American Art will present New York's first museum exhibition devoted to the work of Jay DeFeo (1929-1989). Consisting of approximately 25 works, this focused exhibition will place The Rose (1958-66) - DeFeo's monumental and most acclaimed painting - in the context of the artist's larger body of work. The exhibition spans the years 1956 to 1977, the decades before and after DeFeo completed The Rose, and includes pairings of works and accompanying studies that have never been seen in public before. (right: Jay DeFeo The Eyes,1958. Graphite on paper, 48 x 96 inches (121.92 x 243.84 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the Lannan Foundation. ©2003 Estate of Jay DeFeo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photograph by Geoffrey Clements)

"Beside The Rose: Selected Works by Jay DeFeo" is being organized by Dana Miller, Associate Curator, Postwar Art. The exhibition will include examples of paintings, photo-collages, studies, and finished drawings, including The Eyes, illustrated above. Many of the works date to the early 1970s, when the artist returned to painting after a three-year hiatus, and began experimenting with acrylic paint and increasingly with photography. DeFeo's works of this period demonstrate a sustained focus on the abstracted forms of familiar objects, such as a pair of water goggles, and her teeth, which she had lost to gum disease, possibly from over-exposure to toxins in her painting materials.

The exhibition will illuminate the connections in DeFeo's work throughout two decades, both in subject matter and in form. As Miller explains, "Although The Rose was the culmination of more than seven years of work, it was not the culmination of DeFeo's career. It is important to look at The Rose amidst DeFeo's other remarkable works. You can see that she was exploring certain formal concerns throughout her career and in many cases - not only with The Rose - her working method was an intensive process of physical experimentation with materials."

DeFeo began The Rose in 1958 with a single idea: that the work, as she said, "would have a center." For the next seven years she applied paint to the canvas and chiseled away at it, more than once scraping the work all the way down to the support and starting again. When DeFeo was finished, The Rose stretched more than eleven feet high, the paint ranged in thickness from roughly two to eleven inches, and it weighed close to one ton.

The Rose was exhibited in museums in Pasadena and San Francisco in 1969. In the early 1970s deterioration required a temporary conservation effort, during which the work was covered by a protective plaster coating. In 1979, a fiberboard wall was constructed in front of the covered painting, further obscuring it from view. It remained inaccessible for close to twenty years, until 1995, when the work was conserved and then acquired by the Whitney Museum. The Rose has been installed at the Whitney only twice since then, both times in group exhibitions.

The exhibition will coincide with the release of the book, Jay DeFeo and 'The Rose,' co-published by the Whitney Museum and University of California Press, Berkeley. The book includes a forward by Marla Prather, and essays on The Rose by ten authors, including Walter Hopps, Lucy Lippard, Greil Marcus, Carter Ratcliff, and David Ross.

The Artist

Mary Joan DeFeo was born in 1929 in Hanover, New Hampshire (Jay was the nickname she acquired in high school). After receiving her bachelor's and master's degrees in art from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1950 and 1951, she traveled on a fellowship to Europe, where she spent a year and a half. She returned to the United States in 1953 and settled first in Berkeley and then in San Francisco. It was in San Francisco that DeFeo became associated with a group of artists and poets that included Joan Brown, Michael McClure, Bruce Conner, Allen Ginsberg, and artist Wally Hedrick, whom she married in 1954. Beginning in the mid-1960s DeFeo taught at many of the major art institutions in the San Francisco Bay area, including the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1981 she joined the faculty at Mills College, in Oakland, California, where she continued to teach until her death in 1989, at the age of 60.

DeFeo at the Whitney

The Whitney's holdings of DeFeo's work are the most extensive of any public collection, including a total of 22 objects - paintings, drawings, photo collages, and photographic collaborations with fellow artist Wallace Berman.

Beside the Rose: Selected Works by Jay DeFeo has been made possible by support from Dan and Anna Benton.


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