Rarely is an artist so closely associated with a single work as is Jay DeFeo with her monumental painting The Rose. Begun in the late 1950s, when DeFeo, a central figure of the Beat generation of San Francisco, was just starting to garner widespread national recognition, the visionary work occupied the artist for eight years. Massive in scale, layered with nearly two thousand pounds of paint, the overpowering painting was already famous before its first exhibition in 1969 at the Pasadena Art Museum. It was next exhibited in San Francisco, then stored at the San Francisco Art Institute, where it languished for twenty-five years before a historic conservation restored it to public view. The Rose now resides in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
This volume is the first major study of The Rose in particular and of Jay DeFeo in general. In the collection, eleven distinguished art and cultural historians—Bill Berkson, Niccolo Caldararo, Richard Cándida Smith, Walter Hopps, Lucy R. Lippard, Greil Marcus, Sandra S. Phillips, Marla Prather, Carter Ratcliff, David A. Ross, and Martha Sherrill—unfold the story of the creation, as well as the tricky and painstaking rescue, of DeFeo’s radiant masterpiece. While providing new material on The Rose and exposing many myths surrounding both the artist and her great work, these essays also place Jay DeFeo in relation to artists of her time, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Lee Bontecou, and Eva Hesse. The book, which adds significantly to the scholarship of postwar American art, includes nearly eighty halftones, thirteen color plates, and Judith Dunham’s detailed Rose-related chronology.
Foreword: Beside The Rose: DeFeo’s Work at the Whitney Museum
Jane Green and Leah Levy
The Legendary Rose
David A. Ross
The Story of The Rose
Think of Jay DeFeo Dancing to Count Basie Playing "One O’clock Jump"
Without The Rose: DeFeo in Sixteen Americans
Transplanting The Rose
Lucy R. Lippard
Photographing The Rose
Sandra S. Phillips
Conserving The Rose
Vectors of Emergence, Lines of Descent
Richard Cándida Smith
Art and the Limits of Language: A Critical Approach to The Rose
List of Illustrations with Photo Credits
Selected Bibliography on The Rose
Jane Green is an art historian and has worked on exhibitions at Mills College Art Museum and the Berkeley Art Museum, two institutions associated with DeFeo. Leah Levy is an independent curator and trustee of the Estate of Jay DeFeo. She worked directly with DeFeo as curatorial consultant from 1985 until the artist’s death in 1989, and organized the conservation of The Rose. She is author of Kathryn Gustafson: Sculpting the Land (1998) and guest curator of Revelatory Landscapes (2001) at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
"A gorgeous and moving book about a grand American masterpiece."—Thomas Hoving
"Is The Rose erupting or imploding, or is it doing both simultaneously—swallowing up and disgorging a life, an era, an entire mythos? The current volume, at last grappling with the whole of Jay DeFeo's great billowing fever dream of a masterpiece, plugs a gaping hole in the history of contemporary American art, and does so with a sense of moment and scale and flair worthy of its mind-blowing subject."—Lawrence Weschler
"An original and highly effective combining of 'readings' of the work of Jay DeFeo, a leading figure of the Beat generation. The various perspectives of the authors come smoothly together in their recognition of her supreme artistic ambition and desire to approach transcendence through art. New images and insights demythologize The Rose, now a genuine icon of the heroic abstract expressionist ethos identified with the era, enabling its creator to emerge as an individual and thereby richly enhancing our understanding of both the art and the artist."—Paul J. Karlstrom, editor of On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950
"Eight years in the making, Jay DeFeo's The Rose was hidden behind a wall for over two decades and uncovered only after the artist's death. This book presents an account of its remarkable birth, burial, rescue, and resurrection through the words of conservators, curators, art historians, friends of the artist, and critics. The volume's sensitively written essays bring The Rose back to life in all its enigmatic complexity. It is a story unparalleled in contemporary art history, by turns riveting, heartbreaking, and exhilarating."—Eleanor Heartney, author of Critical Condition: American Culture at the Crossroads