Friday, May 30, 2008


Years ago a friend turned me on to the poet Robert Duncan and we were able to meet him. And through his association with Duncan, I learned of Jess. There is a show of his work at Reed right now.

I went with a friend who said: “It’s so strange to see such an intimate, almost unambitious show. Everything has to look so perfect these days – so slick.” And if not slick, at least clever. It is true that nothing in this show really looks like product, but more like evidence of a life and its relationships.

And of course it’s a child of its time: the beat stance of the 1950s bled into the full-blown hippie groove, as evidenced in some of his book covers from the 60s. Touches of Art Nouveau, Mucha and Beardsley – can’t imagine anyone could escape that if you lived in San Francisco in 1967.

As far as collage goes, a lot of the show is a rough cut and I can think of much better artists working in the medium. And this medium is not any more held strictly within the confines of 20th century than photography or painting would be. What this exhibition really felt like was more a document of a tender time and life, like when Henri spoke of art as: “ - the trace of your being, the thing you leave behind.”


namastenancy said...

I was never an admirer of his work and always wondered if the fuss was because he was one of the first. They had a retrospective when he died and I was shocked at how "blah" I felt about most of the work. But he fit s very small and specialized niche and I guess we should honor him or that.

Duane said...

We stopped by the Cooley Gallery today to see the "Jess" show. I have always liked collage, so I got a great deal from the installation and know that my time was well spent. I found his allegiance to the work of "Romantic" painters like Bonnard and Vulliard especially intriquing. I have to respect anyone who so openly defied the main stream obsession with the abstract expressionism that dominated the fifties and sixties considering the amount of market pressure many of the high profile artists of the time were under to fall in line.

I'm realize he was not alone in clinging to romantic notions about art, but I'm sure artists that followed this path had to give up hope for acceptance of their work by the art establishment in New York. I can see how might have tilled the soil for the germination of Pop Art and other modern expressionist styles.

Bottom line, it's a very entertaining exhibit and well worth the time and effort needed for the experience.

In reference to our conversation on First Wednesday at Laura Russo, I see the "Jess" show as part of the increasing number of opportunities in the city for viewing high quality, influencial art. I understand that we don't have a museum like the Met or the Art Institute of Chicago available to us on a continuous basis. However, we do have some exceptional smaller institutions, like the Museum of Contemporary Craft and Blue Sky Gallery where we can see world class art in those mediums. WE also have and ever improving stable of college and university galleries that bring great work to town.

The bar is rising for the art that comes to town for limited periods time, so it's important to take advantage of these special opportunities as they arise. I see more chances to view great art here as well as junk, but as you have admitted, there is plenty of great art and junk in places like New York and London.

Yes, I do want to see those big museums in the major art centers, those big, high art lakes. Until I manage to make that dream come true, I will continue to love the pond I'm stuck with.

Anonymous said...

Hi Duane,
It's a good thing to love the pond you are stuck with. But you should take a look at the ocean sometime before you're through. And for more than once. E

Anonymous said...

To get back to you, I think you're right: he fits a niche, which is more about a place and a time. And the show was nice for that. But as a collage artist, there are many better. The work looked kind of random and not in a great way.

And as to being "influential," as Duane says here, I think he was more influenced than influential.

Anonymous said...

Here is a video of his exhibition in NYC at Tibor de Nagy....