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Undersoul: Jay DeFeo

San José Museum of Art
San José, CA
March 8 – July 7, 2019

Artworks by Jay DeFeo in the exhibition

Installation images

Exhibition catalogue

Essay by Lauren Schell Dickens and text by Kathryn Wade
© 2019 San José Museum of Art

Moving into our 50th year in the fall of 2019, the San José Museum of Art launches a season of solo exhibitions of visionary women artists to honor the Museum’s history of gender parity in exhibitions, programs, acquisitions, and leadership. Undersoul: Jay DeFeo is the first to open on March 8, 2019.

It is an extraordinary privilege for the San José Museum of Art to present this focused exhibition of the work of Jay DeFeo, an artist whose work is critically acclaimed, actively collected, and powerful in its impact on other artists in the Bay Area and beyond. DeFeo is world-renowned for her monumental painting The Rose (1958-66), a masterpiece indelibly intertwined with the story of the San Francisco Beat Generation. Less well known are her photographs, a medium she turned to as a respite from the eight-year process of painting The Rose. DeFeo focused her lens on familiar objects near at hand in her studio and life, revealing their spiritual and aesthetic qualities: a kind of “undersoul,” as her Beat poet Michael McClure described it.

This exhibition draws largely on previously unpublished and unexhibited works from the rich holdings of The Jay DeFeo Foundation, put into dialogue with four paintings and drawings from SJMA’s permanent collection. DeFeo’s extensive use of photography in the 1970s is explored in this exhibition for the first time, accompanied by this illustrated catalogue presenting new scholarship by Lauren Schell Dickens, curator, and with contributions by Kathryn Wade, curatorial associate. As Dickens writes in her essay: “More than simply another medium at her disposal, photography allowed DeFro a new way of seeing, and thus crafting, her artistic practice.”

We are extremely grateful for generous support from both the public and private sectors for this groundbreaking project. We thank the Myra Reinhard Family Foundation, the lead sponsor for the exhibition. Tad Freese and Brook Hartzell and Dr. Jan Newstrom Thompson and Paul Goldstein provided generous funding, along with additional support from Sotheby’s. This project is also supported, in part, by a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José, whose visionary support of the arts and culture is exemplary. This exhibition catalogue is supported by The Jay DeFeo Foundation and M. Bernadette Castor and David Packard. To everyone involved, we wish to express profound apprecaition; their enthusiasm for this project is a testament to the lasting power of Jay DeFeo’s vision.

Susan Sayre Batton
Oshman Executive Driector
San José Museum of Art