San José Museum of Art Presents A New Exhibition featuring Unseen Works by Local Artist Jay DeFeo

Release date 
Thursday, January 3, 2019

Jay DeFeo

Untitled, 1971

gelatin silver print

2 5/8 x 4 3/4 inches

Estate no. P1284

Courtesy of The Jay DeFeo Foundation; Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; Galerie Frank Elbaz, Paris & Dallas

© 2019 The Jay DeFeo Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

SAN JOSÉ (January 3, 2019) –  The San José Museum of Art, California (SJMA) presents a new exhibition with previously unseen photographs by the artist Jay DeFeo. Though she is well known for her monumental painting The Rose (1958–66), DeFeo’s visual and poetic associations play across a remarkable array of media and material. Using four DeFeo works in SJMA’s permanent collection as the organizing catalyst, Undersoul: Jay DeFeo explores DeFeo’s prolific use of photography as a critical facet of her process within the context of her multimedia work, deepening and extending her important legacy beyond painting and drawing.

Undersoul: Jay DeFeo will be on view from March 8–July 7, 2019. Organized by the San José Museum of Art, and curated by Lauren Schell Dickens, curator and Kathryn Wade, curatorial associate, the exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by SJMA. Both the exhibition and catalogue offer important new scholarship that uniquely examines the role of photography in DeFeo's practice. 

Susan Sayre Batton, Oshman Executive Director of the San José Museum of Art, said, “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 was critically acclaimed, actively collected, and powerful in its impact on other artists in the Bay Area and beyond. We are grateful to The Jay DeFeo Foundation, who generously share unpublished works to come into dialog with four paintings and drawings from the SJMA permanent collection, and to curator Lauren Schell Dickens, who presents new scholarship. This exhibition launches us into our 50th Anniversary year with a season of solo exhibitions of visionary women artists.”

Undersoul: Jay DeFeo features unique photographs, photo collages, photocopies, drawings, and paintings from the 1970s and 1980s that track the artist’s visual vocabulary across media and subject matter. DeFeo’s camera was a tool for focusing and framing, a lens through which she fixated on texture, manipulated tonality and perspective, while exploring elemental aspects of the photographically-captured world around her. Built around four works by DeFeo in SJMA's permanent collection as guiding lynchpins, the exhibition examines DeFeo’s visual symbols and formal qualities that transmute across media.

Jay DeFeo (1929-1989) was born in Hanover, New Hampshire and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lived in San Francisco and San José. She received her BA and MA from the University of California, Berkeley. DeFeo was a pivotal figure in the historic Beat community of artists, poets, and jazz musicians. She worked with unorthodox materials to explore the broadest definitions of sculpture, drawing, collage, and painting. Throughout her career, DeFeo taught at San Francisco Arts Institute; California College of the Arts, Oakland; and Mills College, Oakland. Her work has been featured in numerous museum exhibitions, including a major retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2012.

The accompanying 70-page full-color catalogue published by Edition One, Berkeley, CA, presents new scholarship and reproduces previously unpublished works from The Jay DeFeo Foundation. The catalogue includes an essay by curator Lauren Schell Dickens; four short texts by curatorial associate Kathryn Wade exploring disparate cross-medium themes; and 30 full-color plates of artwork from the exhibition. The catalogue offers new insight into DeFeo’s artistic practice and as a photographer. Over half of the works featured in the catalogue have not been published before.

Related Programming
Undersoul: Jay DeFeo Opening Celebration
Saturday, March 9 | 6–8pm
Celebrate the new exhibition.
Free to members. Sponsored by Sotheby’s and Sipsmith, the official gin of the San José Museum of Art.

Gallery Talk on Undersoul: Jay DeFeo
Thursday, March 14 | 12:30–1pm
Tour the exhibition Undersoul: Jay DeFeo with Kathryn Wade, curatorial associate.
Free with museum admission.
See for updates on future programming.

Organization and Funding
Sponsored by the Myra Reinhard Family Foundation, The Jay DeFeo Foundation, Tad Freese and Brook Hartzell, and Dr. Jan Newstrom Thompson and Paul Goldstein. Additional support provided by Sotheby’s and M. Bernadette Castor and David Packard.

Supported, in part, by a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José.

San José Museum of Art

The San José Museum of Art is located at 110 South Market Street in downtown San José, California. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11am to 5pm and until 8pm or later on the third Thursday of each month. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for students, and $5 for youth ages 7–18. Members and children ages 6 and under are admitted free. For more information, call 408.271.6840 or visit

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Programs at the San José Museum of Art are made possible by generous operating support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Yvonne and Mike Nevens, a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José, and the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation.