Jay De Feo's The Rose
Has a painting ever moved you emotionally? Has one ever stopped you in your tracks and knocked the breath out of you?
It happened to me once. I was visiting the Whitney to see a Lucas Samaris retrospective a number of years ago. I've mentioned Samaris before briefly. He was known for a number of things, his fantastic collage boxes, autopolaroids, and his pastels.
After viewing that impressive collection I made my way down stairs to peek at the rest of the exhibitions. It was my first visit to the Whitney. On the ground floor I turned into a room and there it was. Jay De Feo's Rose. I had never heard of it before.
I'm not known for being terribly sentimental, or easily phazed. I try not to fawn, or dote. I just couldn't help it. I was shocked. There's nothing like it. It's a painting that weighs more than two thousand pounds. It's more than ten feet tall. Jay worked on it between 1958 and 1965. She worked on one painting for eight solid years. Eight years.
It is one of the most immediate objects I have ever encountered, the most immanent. I gasped out loud. I'm neither spiritual, nor religious, but there is something that you might call supernatural about The Rose. I thought it was radiating light.
When the painting was first shown it was viewed as a monster. It was out of the mainstream. Dated. De Feo had worked on a piece until its impetus was passe. She never blew up. She is basically a footnote in art history but she is incredibly relevant as a message to the excesses and blindness of the art market. Value fabricated by deceptive dealers and handlers, mountains of hype surrounding an empty name can never compare to the impact of a work with as much visual impact, beauty, ugliness, and scale as the Rose by Jay De Feo.