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Culture Watch: 'Jay DeFeo, A Retrospective'

December 12, 2012|By Jori Finkel
  • "Untitled (Salvador Dali's Birthday Party)," a 1973 gelatin silver print "chemigram" by Jay DeFeo.
"Untitled (Salvador Dali's Birthday Party)," a 1973… (© 2012 The Jay DeFeo…)

The language of excavation is familiar to fans of late Bay Area artist Jay DeFeo. She famously spent eight years from 1958 to '66 both building up and digging into the surface of a massive abstract painting-sculpture ultimately known as "The Rose."

But now that DeFeo is the subject of a major museum retrospective, the excavation image seems better suited to the activity of the curators, such as Dana Miller from the Whitney and Corey Keller at SFMOMA, who have gone well beyond DeFeo’s "Rose" to bring her little-known work to light in their exhibitions and this catalog.

The biggest revelation: DeFeo was a photographer as well as a painter, making quasi-Surreal, experimental-looking prints and photo-collages in the 1970s that resonate with work done during that time by Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner and — in their cool attention to everyday objects in decay — William Eggleston. Photographs of her own dental bridges, a decrepit chandelier and gnarly wrapped objects are standouts.

The catalog features some photographs not included in the SFMOMA presentation, most notably a set of 1959 photographs that Berman took of a semi-clad or naked DeFeo posed (sometimes legs splayed) in front of her paintings. In the San Francisco showing at least, the curator decided these artful pinup images were more Berman than DeFeo’s work — and cut them from the show.

Word is they might be in the Whitney, when the show reaches that museum in February.

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Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective
By Dana Miller and other contributors
320 pages
Published by the Whitney Museum of American Art, $65

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