Rediscovering DeFeo at The Whitney

Mar 19, 2013 5:41PM

By Ted Loos

Jay DeFeo has long been known as a one-trick pony: for spending eight years on her undisputed monumental masterpiece, The Rose (1958-66). The terrific work, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, was a sort of hybrid between painting and sculpture—its depiction of a rose was more like a trippy, angular vortex—and weighed 2,300 lbs. From 1979 to 1995 it was sealed up behind a temporary wall in a San Francisco art school—buried alive, as it were—and had been ignored for another ten years before that. So when it finally reappeared, the work acquired the status of myth.

Now, the Whitney is showing “Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective” through June 2, and hopefully it will expand our view of this Beat-era artist, who was based in San Francisco. “This is a woman who had a 40-year career, and she's only known for that one work, which took eight years—with only five of those totally devoted to it,” Dana Miller, who organized the show, told me. “There is other work that is as deserving of attention as The Rose.”
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Ted Loos writes on wine, art and architecture for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, Vogue and You can follow him on Twitter at @LoosLips.