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Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective

Feb 28–June 2, 2013

This retrospective is the definitive exhibition to date of the work of Jay DeFeo (1929–89). At the outset of her career in the 1950s, DeFeo was at the center of a vibrant community of Beat artists, poets, and musicians in San Francisco. Although she is best known for her monumental painting The Rose (1958–66, now in the Whitney’s collection), which she spent eight years making and which later languished hidden behind a wall for two decades, DeFeo created an astoundingly diverse range of works spanning four decades. Her unconventional approach to materials and intensive, physical process make DeFeo a unique figure in postwar American art who defies easy categorization. The full breadth of her work will be presented for the first time in this exhibition of more than 130 objects. This astonishing array of collages, drawings, paintings, photographs, small sculptures, and jewelry will illuminate DeFeo’s courageous experimentation and extraordinary vision. 

Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective is organized by Dana Miller, Curator of the Permanent Collection.

Major support for Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective is provided by the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Generous support is provided by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Additional support is provided by Louisa Stude Sarofim, Susan Weeks and David Coulter, Francis H. Williams, M. Bernadette Castor and David R. Packard, the Clinton Hill/Allen Tran Foundation, Sarah Peter, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Museum Educational Trust, and an anonymous donor.

Special thanks to The Jay DeFeo Trust.

Works from the Exhibition

Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Untitled c. 1953–55. Wire, pearl, and seed hung with thread, 2 1/2 × 1 ½ x 1/4 in. (6.4 × 3.8 × 1.3 cm). Private collection. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by George Hixson
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Landscape with Figure, 1955. Oil on canvas, 18 × 14 in. (45.7 × 35.6 cm). Private collection. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Ben Blackwell
Jay DeFeo, The Eyes, 1958. Graphite on paper, 42 × 84 3/4 in. (106.7 × 215.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Lannan Foundation  96.242.3© 2009 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Jay DeFeo, The Rose, 1958–66. Oil with wood and mica on canvas, 128 7/8 × 92 1/4 × 11 in. (327.3 × 234.3 × 27.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Estate of Jay DeFeo and purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Judith Rothschild Foundation  95.170© 2009 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Crescent Bridge I, 1972. Synthetic polymer and mixed media on plywood, 48 × 66 1/2 in. (121.9 × 168.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Daniel C. Benton  2002.279. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Crescent Bridge II, 1970–72. Synthetic polymer and mixed media on plywood, 48 × 96 in. (121.9 × 243.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase  2002.329. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Untitled, 1972. Gelatin silver print, 2 3/4 × 4 1/8 in. (7 × 10.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee  2010.5. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Robert Gerhardt
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Untitled, 1973. Collage with cut gelatin silver print, torn paper, and paint on gelatin silver print photogram, 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; purchase through a gift of Robin Wright and the Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Barbara and Gerson Bakar, Shawn and Brook Byers, Jean and James E. Douglas, Jr., Pamela and Richard Kramlich, Mary and Howard Lester, and Nancy and Steven Oliver. © 2013 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Don Ross
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Untitled (Salvador Dalí’s Birthday Party), May 11, 1973. Gelatin silver print chemigram, 10 × 7 7/8 in. (25.4 × 20 cm) . Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of an anonymous donor and The Jay DeFeo Trust in honor of Kim Zorn Caputo  2005.109. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Untitled (Salvador Dalí’s Birthday Party), May 11, 1973. Gelatin silver print chemigram, 10 × 7 7/8 in. (25.4 × 20 cm). The Jay DeFeo Trust, Berkeley . © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Ben Blackwell
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Masquerade in Black (Loop System No. 4), 1975. Synthetic polymer and mixed media on Masonite, 96 × 96 in. (243.8 × 243.8 cm). San Francisco Arts Commission. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Ben Blackwell
Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Untitled, from the Water Goggles series, 1977. Synthetic polymer, charcoal, ink, grease pencil and graphite on paper, 15 × 20 in. (38.1 × 50.8 cm). Private collection. © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Ben Blackwell
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Installation Photography

Installation view of Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 28–June 2, 2013).  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Installation view of Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 28–June 2, 2013).  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Installation view of Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 28–June 2, 2013).  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Installation view of Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 28–June 2, 2013).  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Installation view of Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 28–June 2, 2013).  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins
Installation view of Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 28–June 2, 2013).  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

In the first comprehensive monograph on Jay DeFeo, Dana Miller looks at the breadth and daring of the artist’s work, her cross-disciplinary practice, her range of interests and influences, as well as pivotal moments in her career. In addition, Miller presents the broadest consideration to date of the lesser-known works from the 1970s and 1980s and dispels misconceptions about the artist. 

Contributors:
Michael Duncan
Corey Keller
Carol Mancusi-Ungaro
Greil Marcus 

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In the News

“If the rest of the world hasn’t yet caught up to DeFeo as equally essential and as master blasting as Eva Hesse, Lee Bontecou, Lee Lozano, and, yes, Ms. O’Keeffe—this exhibition says we must. And we will.”
Artforum (subscription required)

“[Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective] gives you something more than any one masterpiece can: the eye, mind and heart of an artist who never stood still, one you can count yourself lucky to know.” 
The New York Times

“. . . DeFeo deserves to be understood for the entirety of her career. Beyond rigid formalism, and beyond New York too, dozens of stories remain to be told about the American postwar generation, and this show was a welcome contribution to that still-delayed project.”
Frieze (subscription required)

“Long overdue for an exhibition that would present the true scope of her accomplishments, [Jay DeFeo] is finally getting the attention she deserves in this ecstatic retrospective.”
Artnews

Video: Curator Dana Miller speaks about Jay DeFeo’s life and work.
—Artinfo 

The Rose is an undeniable highlight of the exhibition. . . . But this carefully plotted retrospective, which in San Francisco presented approximately 130 paintings, drawings, collages, photographs and a few small sculptures in eight galleries, explores the breadth and diversity of DeFeo’s art.”
Art In America

“The works have a subtlety; they speak in a whisper, in hushed tones. But the story they tell is terrifically compelling.”
The Paris Review

“The final work in the show, Last Valentine (1989), is of a heart shape in brown and white, with feathery strokes melting into a delicately rumpled, cream-white ground. It took my breath away.”
The New Yorker (subscription required)

“The exhibition pays a long overdue tribute to a truly innovative figure in American art.”
Opening Ceremony

“Jay DeFeo, Forgotten Female Beat Artist, Gets Her Due”
New York Magazine

“Even the earliest and slightest works in Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective . . . exude a fearlessness characteristic of her sensibility.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“I know of no other American painter of the postwar years who managed—even if only for a decade—to contain such profound expressive content in works of such ardent intensity and masterly control.”
The Wall Street Journal

Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective Gives Bay Area Legend Her Due At SFMOMA
Huffington Post

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Jay DeFeo, The Eyes, 1958. Graphite on paper, 42 × 84 3/4 in. (106.7 × 215.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Lannan Foundation  96.242.3. © 2009 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Installing The Rose

Estimated to weigh nearly one ton, The Rose (1958-66) by Jay DeFeo is one of the most complicated works in the Whitney’s permanent collection to install. On February 15th, 2013, the work arrived in New York from California, where the Whitney’s exhibition Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective had finished a successful run at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Paula Court documented the installation that day from start to finish.       

After a cross-country journey by tractor-trailer from San Francisco, The Rose is prepped for unloading on Madison Avenue. Photograph by Paula Court

After a cross-country journey by tractor-trailer from San Francisco, The Rose is prepped for unloading on Madison Avenue.

Scott Atthowe, who has directed The Rose’s complex installation process many times, and who traveled from Oakland for the installation, double-checks the work’s placement on a forklift before it is lowered onto dollies. Photograph by Paula Court

Scott Atthowe, who has directed The Rose’s complex installation process many times, and who traveled from Oakland for the installation, double-checks the work’s placement on a forklift before it is lowered onto dollies.

The Whitney’s art handlers maneuver The Rose to East 75th Street, where the Museum’s only entrance large enough to accommodate the work  is located. Photograph by Paula Court

The Whitney’s art handlers maneuver The Rose to East 75th Street, where the Museum’s only entrance large enough to accommodate the work is located.

Once inside, art handlers use a specialized rigging system to lift up the protective metal cage that encases the work when it travels or is in storage. Photograph by Paula Court

Once inside, art handlers use a specialized rigging system to lift up the protective metal cage that encases the work when it travels or is in storage.

Hoist and straps allow the cage to be lifted safely despite minimal clearance around the work’s edges. Photograph by Paula Court

Hoist and straps allow the cage to be lifted safely despite minimal clearance around the work’s edges.

The cage is clear of the work. Photograph by Paula Court

The cage is clear of the work.

The Rose is inverted ninety degrees using two gantries that will enable the painting to be maneuvered into the first of two elevators that it will ride during the installation process. Photograph by Paula Court

The Rose is inverted ninety degrees using two gantries that will enable the painting to be maneuvered into the first of two elevators that it will ride during the installation process.

With the Whitney’s lobby bookstore to the right, the team makes final preparations before The Rose enters the freight elevator. Photograph by Paula Court

With the Whitney’s lobby bookstore to the right, the team makes final preparations before The Rose enters the freight elevator.

Within the museum building, The Rose travels on a custom A-frame cart. Photograph by Paula Court

Within the museum building, The Rose travels on a custom A-frame cart.

Head art handler Joshua Rosenblatt closes the freight elevator doors. Photograph by Paula Court

Head art handler Joshua Rosenblatt closes the freight elevator doors.

Surrounded by crated artworks and various pieces of installation equipment in the Whitney’s lower level, the installation team ensures the A-frame transporting The Rose makes the turn towards the second elevator that it will ride. Photograph by Paula Court

Surrounded by crated artworks and various pieces of installation equipment in the Whitney’s lower level, the installation team ensures the A-frame transporting The Rose makes the turn towards the second elevator that it will ride.

Joshua Rosenblatt uses a Johnson bar to lever the A-frame from the elevator into the Museum’s fourth floor galleries where Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective is being installed. Photograph by Paula Court

Joshua Rosenblatt uses a Johnson bar to lever the A-frame from the elevator into the Museum’s fourth floor galleries where Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective is being installed.

It takes a team of art handlers to roll The Rose to a gallery that has been specially prepared to display the work. Photograph by Paula Court

It takes a team of art handlers to roll The Rose to a gallery that has been specially prepared to display the work.

A view of the back of The Rose. Much of its current weight comes from an embedded frame and lifting armature that was affixed to the work during a massive conservation project  in 1995. Photograph by Paula Court

A view of the back of The Rose. Much of its current weight comes from an embedded frame and lifting armature that was affixed to the work during a massive conservation project in 1995.

Curator Dana Miller, who organized the DeFeo retrospective, inspects the work’s surface. Photograph by Paula Court

Curator Dana Miller, who organized the DeFeo retrospective, inspects the work’s surface.

The Rose is lifted again from the A-frame. Photograph by Paula Court

The Rose is lifted again from the A-frame.

The whole team is required for this effort. Photograph by Paula Court

The whole team is required for this effort.

The Rose is laid flat before its final reorientation. Photograph by Paula Court

The Rose is laid flat before its final reorientation.

The Rose is slowly brought to its upright position. Photograph by Paula Court

The Rose is slowly brought to its upright position.

A two-ton gantry takes the weight of the work. Panels on either side of The Rose have been removed from the wall to allow the gantry to move as close to the wall as possible. Photograph by Paula Court

A two-ton gantry takes the weight of the work. Panels on either side of The Rose have been removed from the wall to allow the gantry to move as close to the wall as possible.

The brace behind The Rose is secured to the wall.  Dana Miller snaps a cell phone picture. Photograph by Paula Court

The brace behind The Rose is secured to the wall. Dana Miller snaps a cell phone picture.

After the installation, when things have quieted down, the registrar responsible for seeing The Rose travel safely from New York to San Francisco and back again pauses with relief.  Still left to do: patch and repair the wall, attach the frame and platform, adjust the lighting, silkscreen the wall text, and much more. Photograph by Paula Court

After the installation, when things have quieted down, the registrar responsible for seeing The Rose travel safely from New York to San Francisco and back again pauses with relief. Still left to do: patch and repair the wall, attach the frame and platform, adjust the lighting, silkscreen the wall text, and much more.

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Jay Defeo and The Rose
Publication
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Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective
Exhibition catalogue
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