Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide features commentary by artist Jay DeFeo, Dana Miller, curator of the permanent collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, Leah Levy, Director, The Jay DeFeo Trust, Corey Keller, associate curator of photography, San Francisco  Museum of Modern Art, Greil Marcus, writer and critic, Ursula Cipa, and Fred Martin, friends of DeFeo.

Jay DeFeo (1929–1989), Untitled, c. 1953–55. Copper, iron, beads, pearls, and wire, 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 x 1/4 (8.3 x 8.3 x 0.6 cm). Oakland Museum of California; gift of Jean Martin A93.51.1. © 2013 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy Oakland Museum of California. Photograph by Ben Blackwell


JAY DEFEO: This became my jewelry period. 


NARRATOR: Jay DeFeo, speaking in 1980.


JAY DEFEO: Actually it was only intended to be small sculptures, but because it kind of leant itself to practical application many of these pieces later became jewelry. And I was heavily involved in making these pieces for about three years.


NARRATOR: DeFeo became ambivalent about making jewelry—she began to feel that it required her to approach her art like an assembly line. But objects like this copper pin were important to her. In these works, she refined what she called her "visual vocabulary"—the formal language that developed in Florence. Concentric circles, like the ones in this pendant, became very important. She frequently gave her works very distinct centers that seemed to either radiate outward or provide a window or aperture into their center. She explored these formats on a small scale in objects like this one, and continued to develop them as her career went on.


DeFeo's interest in making these small objects intensified after moving into a small, low-rent studio. And her reasons for shifting the production of those objects toward jewelry or wearable art were also financial.


DANA MILLER: What happened [laughs] was she actually was arrested for shoplifting paint. 

NARRATOR: Dana Miller.

DANA MILLER: She was looking to creating oil paintings again in a serious way for the first time, and she didn't have enough money to pay for paint. In her first and only attempt to shoplift, because she was so inept and so inexperienced, she got caught. She felt the need to create more . . . I think what would be considered conventional jewelry pieces, as a way of supporting herself. She lost some of the part-time teaching. She had to find a means of supporting herself through her art.