Jay De FeoHow does a museum display a piece of art weighing in over a ton? One which would easily overpower a small gallery if it could even get through the door. How do the art handlers involved in transporting it handle it? Rather carefully!

The difficulty of displaying “The Rose”, a 3,000 pound work by artist Jay DeFeo, has long fueled its allure.

Jay DeFeo created the piece between 1958 and 1966. In a 1974 conservation effort it was covered with plaster and other stabilizers. Sitting in a conference room at the San Francisco Art Institute it faded into the background. People carved their initials into its thick protective layer of plaster or stabbed their cigarettes out on it. The Institue eventually built a false wall and hid the work behind it. The “Rose” went unseen for more than 20 years before its first show at the Whitney in 1995.

Ms. DeFeo who died in 1989 at the age of 60, was convinced that the methods she had used creating the “Rose” had harmed her health. She had added layer upon layer of paint–the work is oil with wood and mica on canvas–until it was 11 inches thick in places.

Then she carved and sanded the surface, filling the room with plaster dust. It grew until it filled an entire wall and blocked out a large window which had let in the sun. With 2 small windows on either side however, it gave light enough for her to determine its shading and sculpted surface, visually creating a previously unseen surface.

The Whitney museum is trying to replicate those lighting conditions for its current show, with shafts of light illuminating either side of the work in a darkened gallery. For the first time, curator Dana Miller said that “The Rose” will appear the way the artist wanted it seen. DeFeo would be pleased.


While patiently waiting to deliver some of my precious blood at the hospital lab, I noticed a youngish woman watching me for a sign of recognition.  She soon came and sat beside me and asked if I were me, to which I replied that I thought I was.  She had been a student of mine about twenty years ago, so we caught up on the intervening years.

I remembered her as an eager 19 year old who had great dreams of becoming a sculptor.  She had willingly taken on all the dirty jobs in the studio, and frequently stayed behind to work on her project.

She said she rememered my asking the class “How do you see yourself in twenty years?” and had thought without a doubt that her dreams would be a reality by then.  I remembered the question , and the various interesting answers it  produced, including my own answer.  For one thing, it gave an indication of just how serious the student might be.  Were they simply taking the art class for a credit, were they fortunate housewives taking an art course between their early morning tennis game and lunch, or was this the year there were some people who actually wanted this to be their life work?

Would they be willing to tackle the business side of art?  Did they expect to make a lot of money at this job?  Because art is a job just like anything else.  You may make nothing, and will obviously have to have another source of income.  At least enough to put food on the table.  The romantic fallacy is being able to live in solitary splendor just being creative.  You have to be a salesman and convince a gallery that they need what you have to offer.  You have to be willing to take on two or more jobs at the same time.

Seeing her there with two small boys sitting quietly beside her, I asked “So are you still doing your art?”  She shook her head and smiled at her two sons.  “No, I’ve not had the time yet.  Maybe someday.”

It definitely can be done and still have a family,  but it takes real dedication, and a sense of humor to make up for the time you absolutely do not have the time.  A wise woman told me after I said I couldn’t find the time for something: “You will never find time.  You have to take it.”

Seeing my cane and my sling, I was definitely not at my best that day, and she inevitably asked “What about you?”

Well,  I never became famous, I never made a ton of money, and sculpture destroyed my shoulder, jogging destroyed my leg, and I’m twenty years older.  But you know, it’s was a great trade-off.  I have a wonderful husband and family, I can no longer handle 50# of clay at a time, but I plan to finish all the half-finished canvases and begin new paintings, and I still have a sense of humor.