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Jay DeFeo

Jay DeFeo: Chancing the Ridiculous

Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through February 3, 2013. It will be on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art from February 28 - June 2, 2013.


Jay DeFeo, The Rose, 1958-66; oil with wood and mica on canvas; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of The Jay DeFeo Trust, Berkeley, CA, and purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and the Judith Rothschild Foundation; © 2012 The Jay DeFeo Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jay DeFeo's reputation as an imporatant painter was established before the eight year period (1958-1966) in which she poured her entire vision and energy into a single work -The Rose. Perhaps the most mythic of the great Abstract Expressionist paintings, The Rose rivals masterworks by Pollock, Still, or Rothko. In 1959 DeFeo refused the invitation to exhibit The Rose in Dorothy Miller's 16 Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, choosing instead to work on the painting for seven more years.

DeFeo remarked at the time:

"Only by chancing the ridiculous, can I hope for the sublime." 1

In 2003, curator Marla Prather succinctly captured the scope of DeFeo’s commitment to the work:

“[DeFeo] was twenty-nine years old when she began the painting, turned thirty-seven the year she completed it, and reached forty before she began making art again... After 1974, then the painting was encased in plaster, she never saw the work again...” 2

The two videos below are part of the Voices and Images of California Art series produced by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In the first video, Bruce Conner discusses the development of The Rose. Conner famously documented the removal of the painting from DeFeo's apartment in his 1967 film The White Rose.