Weighing nearly one ton, The Rose by Jay DeFeo is one of the most complicated works in the Whitney’s collection to install. On February 15, the work was installed at the Whitney Museum as part of the exhibition Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective (opening February 28). The work arrived in New York from California, where the Whitney’s exhibition had finished a successful run at SFMOMA. Photographer Paula Court documented the installation that day from start to finish.

Jay Defeo

“…Jay Defeo’s work is nearly always about scrutinizing objects from her daily life, interpreting them through the filter of her lovely idiosyncrasy, then photographing, drawing, re-working and reinterpreting them to come up with new ways of understanding.  it’s a process like a metaphysician’s — a quest to comprehend the nature and scope of the universe…”

words & image


Jay Defeo, The Rose, 1958-66

For the next eight years, The Rose took over her life, as she painted and repainted it.

“It’s going through a whole cycle of art history, the primitive, the archaic, the classic, and then on to the baroque but still not the final version. I just want to create a work that is just so precariously balanced between going this way or that way that it maintains itself,” she said.

To keep herself going, Jay drank a quart of Christian Brothers brandy a day and smoked two to three packs of Gauloises. At some point, she began adding metallic powders into the mix for sparkle, and inserted copper wire, beads, and pearls. By 1965, she had paid a total of $5,375.51 for painting materials. Today it resides in the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Despite all those Gauloises, it was the painting that was the death of her. Constantly licking her brush to get a point, Jay ingested huge amounts of lead from the white paint, and died of cancer in 1989. Ironically, Jay’s first title for her painting has been Deathrose.

The Beats: A Graphic History


LAST CHANCE! Explore selections from the Museum’s collection that illuminate the innovative nature of works made in the decades following World War II. The refinement of hard-edge abstraction, the clutter of assemblage, and the dynamism of Pop art are showcased in works by Jay DeFeo, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, and others on the sixth floor.


Rather than comb our collections for images of flags/parades/hot dogs/fireworks for today’s post, we thought we’d go with what we do best and share a sampling of artists who made their mark on the American canon. All of these portraits are by Mimi Jacobs.

Top to bottom:

Betye Saar, 1979; Ed Ruscha, 1979; Leo Valledor, 1976; Imogen Cunningham, ca. 1972; Mel Ramos, 1974; Jay DeFeo, 1976; Richard Diebenkorn, 1977

All from: [Photographs of artists taken by Mimi Jacobs, photographer], Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Happy 4th of July!!

The Jewel (Jay Defeo 1959)

Currently on display at LACMA, The Jewel is one of my favorite paintings. I just finished writing an essay describing what makes it fantastically interesting, including the fact that despite you can’t see it here, the meaty mounds of paint protrude several inches from the canvas, like it’s bursting out at the viewer.