Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jay DeFeo and The Rose

Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective will leave the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Feb 3, 2013 to move on to the Whitney Museum of American Art - the institution central to reviving the name of local artist, Jay DeFeo. This not-to-be-missed exhibit is the most comprehensive gathering of DeFeo’s work to date, and includes examples of her repertoire in several media displayed together for the first time in over fifteen years. Painting, drawing, sculpture, jewelry, photography and photo-collage are featured, as well as the work that has been referred to as "a marriage between painting and sculpture", her career-defining piece, The Rose.

So much has been written about The Rose, it is steeped in such lore, that one expects to be disappointed upon seeing it for the first time. Worry not however, the work is as powerful and mammoth as its background story:  DeFeo began the painting in 1958 in her apartment at 2322 Fillmore and worked on it almost exclusively for eight years until, when evicted, she was forced to "finish" it. The painting has been called her Frankenstein, for as she obsessively painted it grew to weigh one ton and measure 11ft x8ft and 11 inches deep. The painting blocked all sunlight from her bay windows except that flooding in from sides, leaving the rest of the studio in near darkness. To remove the painting from the apartment required a crew of eight professional movers and the removal of a section of the building's wall--as famously documented in Bruce Conner's film The White Rose. The gargantuan work was then taken to The Pasadena Museum of Art (DeFeo followed it for some additional touch-ups) where it showed, then to the San Francisco Museum of Art, both in 1969, the only year in DeFeo's lifetime that the piece was exhibited.

image source:Whitney Museum of American Art

Across eight years, the artist declined several offers to purchase or exhibit what she considered to be an "unfinished" piece. The Museum of Modern Art hoped to exhibit the work in 1959 and during the same year a private collector offered $10,000 for it. At one time, The Rose had a waiting list of thirteen individuals and institutions interested in its purchase upon completion. In the painting’s infancy DeFeo gained a national reputation, through articles in national magazines and photographs taken by her contemporary art peers, but by the time the work was finished potential buyers had vanished as interest in the Beat Scene waned and, moreover, it became evident that The Rose was in need of a difficult, costly, and imperative conservation.

Raising funds for such conservation became a new preoccupation for DeFeo, and a concern for conservators. Local papers ran articles on the subject in the early 1970s, but funds were elusive. In the meantime, The San Francisco Art Institute offered their McMillan Conference room to house The Rose, but what began as display turned into long term storage. To protect the piece from already evident structural degradation, Tony Rockwell, conservator at the San Francisco Museum of Art, proposed an unconventional treatment— enshrining the painting within a layer of protective wax, mulberry tissue, chicken wire and white-plaster stabilizer. This left the work unrecognizable but safe until a future date when conservation could be undertaken. The Rose waited in this mummified state, eventually becoming even further entombed by a wall erected in front of it for classroom purposes. Twenty-plus years would pass with DeFeo's hidden masterpiece going all but unnoticed.

DeFeo passed away in 1989. In the last years of her life, her attention again returned to conserving The Rose. Several art institutions also contemplated the expense and feasibility of restoring the piece, but unfortunately none were capable of committing. It was a high stakes gamble--putting a hundred thousand dollars on an unconventional painting, preserved by unconventional methods for a work that had been unviewable for over twenty years. The Whitney was the institution to make the gamble. When planning their 1995 exhibition Beat Culture and the New America, 1950 -1965, their Director learned of The Rose's suspended state and leapt at the opportunity to rescue what he considered to be one of the great post-war American artworks. The treatment cost over $250,000 and the painting gained an additional half ton in weight, but as the San Francisco Examiner art critic David Bonetti stated in a 1995 article, “The salvage of The Rose and the Whitney exhibition are two events in DeFeo’s slow rehabilitation. Like so many Bay Area phenomena, hers is a legend that fades east of Sacramento and south of San Jose. But unlike most of them, she deserves greater fame.”

The current exhibition Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective ensures the artist's legacy beyond the Bay Area.  

Select Bibliography:

San Francisco Public Library Artists Vertical File and Scrapbook - DeFeo's vertical file  chronicles the painting’s history through newspaper articles from the 1970s to present.

Sixteen Americans, edited by Dorothy C. Miller, with statements by the artists and others (Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1959) - Jay DeFeo’s inclusion in this landmark 1959 Museum of Modern Art exhibit, curated by Dorothy Canning Miller, launched the artist’s national reputation. DeFeo was one of only two women included, the other being the older and more established Louise Nevelson, among a set of male soon-to-be art luminaries such as Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Miller tried to persuade DeFeo to show The Rose, but had to settle for including an image of the work in the exhibition catalog. Interestingly, DeFeo's work would not show again in New York for another thirty years.

Jay DeFeo: Selected Works, Past and Present; text by David S. Rubin (San Francisco Art Institute, c1984) - An exhibition catalog is for DeFeo's 1984 retrospective at SFAI. The show was her largest to date and included, 44 paintings, drawings and mixed media pieces, including a companion piece to The Rose, The Jewel, which had not been displayed up until this time.

Jay DeFeo: Works on Paper by Sidra Stich (University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley, 1989) - A retrospective exhibit of drawings, photo collages and paintings on paper.

Greatest Works of Art of Western civilization, selected by Thomas Hoving (Artisan, 1997) - the former director of Metropolitan Museum of Art, choose The Rose as one of his greatest works of art of Western civilization. Of the selected artworks, The Rose is both the most contemporary and only one by a woman.

Jay Defeo and the Rose, edited by Jane Green and Leah Levy (University of California Press; Whitney Museum of American Art, 2003) - the most complete collection of essays on the painting, including an account of its restoration.

Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era by Rebecca Solnit (City Lights Books, 1990) - a study of six artists of the Northern California avant-garde that places DeFeo in a broader artistic community.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Knit Happens 2013 - Knitting and Crochet Club at the S.F. Main Library

image source: janrocrochet Flickr page

Want to hang out with other knitters and crocheters? Knit Happens is a big, all ages (9 to 103) knit and crochet gathering! The library has supplies to practice on but bring your own yarn and needles or hooks if you have a special project in mind. In general, we meet the third Saturday of each month from 2-4pm in the Latino Hispanic Meeting Room B on the Lower Level.

Our first meeting of the new year is this Saturday, January 19, 2013.

For information call the Art, Music & Recreation Center at 415-557-4525.

Here are some hot new knitting and crocheting titles to check out:

Knit In a Day for Baby: 20 Quick and Easy Projects by Candi Jensen (Leisure Arts 2012).

Knitting The Perfect Fit: Essential Fully Fashioned Shaping Techniques For Designer Results by Melissa Leapman (Potter Craft 2012).

75 Seashells, Fish, Coral and Colorful Marine Life to Knit And Crochet by Jessica Polk (St. Martin’s Griffin 2012).

Circular Knitting Workshop: Essential Techniques To Master Knitting In The Round by Margaret Radcliffe (Storey Pub 2012).

Crochet Saved My Life: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Crochet by Kathryn Vercillo (Createspace 2012).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Spinning and Weaving Demonstration, Sunday, January 13, 2013

Spinning and Weaving Demonstration
Sunday, January 13, 2013, 2-4 PM
Main Library, Lower Level, Latino Hispanic Room B

Were you ever curious about the process of how yarn is created starting with the shearing of sheep to the point when the wool is prepared for spinning? Want to see how fabric is created by interlacing yarn or threads on a loom? Come down to the Main Library this Sunday for a demonstration from Spindles and Flyers Spinning Guild, a Bay Area group. Members of the guild will showcase of number of different types of spinning mechanisms (drop spindle, wheels of various configurations and Indian sytle charkha), and a couple types of looms. They will be available to answer any questions and have valuable resources on how to get involved in spinning and weaving in your community.

The library also has a collection of books on spinning and weaving that you can check out, here are some highlights:

The Complete Guide to Spinning Yarn: Techniques, Projects, and Recipes by Brenda Gibson (St. Martin’s, 2012).

Hand Spinning and Natural Dyeing by Claire Boley (Good Life Press, 2011).

Color and Texture in Weaving: 150 Contemporary Designs by Margo Selby (Interweave, 2011).

Weaving Made Easy: 17 Projects Using a Simple Loom by Liz Gipson (Interweave, 2008).

This program is co-sponsored by the Spindles and Flyers Spinning Guild.  All programs at the Library are free and open to the public.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why is information on clothing in three different places in the library?

Dewey Decimal numbers 391, 646.3 and 746.92 all have information about clothing. There are fine distinctions separating them; unfortunately there are also some gray zones where they overlap.  The San Francisco Public Library has many titles that illustrate this. A brief explanation about the Dewey Decimal Classification System will help clarify the situation.

The Dewey Decimal Classification System, Dewey for short, is the most commonly used way for public libraries to organize non-fiction books by subject. It was invented and copyrighted in 1876 by 21-year-old Melvil Dewey. In order to stay current with contemporary needs, it was designed with built-in methods for adding new subjects and revamping subject terms. The twenty-third edition was just published in 2011. Today every book copyrighted in the United States is assigned a standardized Dewey number by the Library of Congress. That means that the same title will be found in the same place in public libraries as far apart as San Francisco, Boston and Anchorage. For a technology invented by one individual 136 years ago it has held up surprisingly well. In some areas though, it’s beginning to show its age. The confusion over the three clothing classifications is a perfect example of how a concept that was entirely clear in Dewey’s Victorian era has caused some understandable mystification in our 21st century.

The 300’s section of the library represents “Social Sciences.” The 391 subsection is assigned to “Costume and Personal Appearance”. The word costume itself is the beginning of the confusion. In modern usage costume usually refers to a disguise, as in a Halloween costume. In Dewey’s time, and in the system today, the main definition is simply a style of dress, especially that specific to a time, group or historical period.  In the 391s you’ll find titles like Women From the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us by Rachelle Bergstein (391.413) and Imperial Chinese Robes From the Forbidden City, edited by Ming Wilson with the Palace Museum, Beijing (391.0095). Falling into the personal appearance part of the 391s is 500 Tattoo Designs by Henry Ferguson (391.65)

The 600’s section comprises “Technology (Applied Science).”.You can imagine how much this section has changed since 1876. At the time Dewey was developed, the 640 division encompassed “Home Economics and Family Living,” and the 646.3 section narrowed this down to the home economics aspects of clothing and accessories. Placing clothing in Home Economics was logical in an era when one member of a large household, nearly always the wife and mother, managed the business of producing and maintaining a family’s wardrobe on a budget and in the home.  To further put 646.3 in context, it is bracketed by 646.2 “Sewing and related operations” and 646.4 “Clothing and accessories construction”. Examples of titles to be found here include Lands’ End Business Attire for Men: Mastering the New ABCs of What to Wear to Work by Todd Lyon (646.32), Dress Like a Million Bucks Without Spending It! By Jo Ann Janssen (646.34), and What Not to Wear by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (646.34)

The 700’s class covers “Fine and Decorative Arts” and when narrowed down to the 746 section comprises “Textile Arts.” Squeezed into the end of this section you’ll find 746.92 “Costume and Fashion Design”. From a contemporary point-of-view, the Decorative Arts aspect of clothing is the easiest placement to understand, but this is quite a modern concept. The first true Haute Couture house was opened by Charles Frederick Worth in 1871. He was the first to put a label in his clothing. Was Melvil Dewey, just six years later, a visionary who observed Worth's accomplishments and predicted that clothing would move out of home economics and into the world of high style? Not exactly. Dewey did not include textile arts or fashion design anywhere in his original list of subjects. Somewhere in one of the later editions the guardians of Dewey realized that textile arts, including knitting, quilting and clothing design, could be considered as objects of artistic expression, and not just as household necessities.  As attitudes changed the Dewey system periodically updated and added subjects in order to stay relevant. Look at 746.92 to find information on individual designers and others involved in the creative side of fashion design. Some books you will find here are Vivienne Westwood by Claire Wilcox (746.9209), Model as Muse by Harold Koda (746.9207), and Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism by Kohle Yohannan and Nancy Nolf (746.9209).

This should help to clear up the logic behind having three different access points for what is essentially the same topic. Because the differences can be somewhat subjective, even seasoned catalogers at the Library of Congress occasionally make some dubious decisions about where to place certain titles. If you are not sure exactly what you want, start in the 391 section. It is by far the largest of the three. If you don’t find what you want where you expect to see it though, remember to check all three sections. Also remember to look at our online catalog because there are some important reference books in the closed stacks that you will not see by browsing the shelves. Staff at the page desk can pull these out for you. As always, if you can’t find what you want, or you aren’t sure what kind of information you need, please check with a reference librarian.