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Hyperallergic Rediscovers Jess

By Harriet Staff


Like we said! If our reportage on An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle hasn’t encouraged you yet to take a gander at the Grey Art Gallery, at NYU– perhaps this Hyperallergic review by Allison Meier will!

Back in the 1950s in the Bay Area, the center for creatives a little off the trail in experimental art was a Victorian house packed to its wooden walls with books. As the home of Jess and Robert Duncan, a couple where within their own relationship there was a constant collaboration between visual art and writing, it became one of the magnets for an eclectic group of artists. They likewise shared influences and would in many ways propel the radical art of the 1960s. However, this collaborative moment hasn’t been looked at in an exhibition until An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle, now at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University.

The exhibition, its title referencing a work by Duncan, debuted last summer at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum, where it was masterminded by curators Michael Duncan and Christopher Wagstaff. After the Grey, it will make stops at the Katzen Art Museum in Washington, DC, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art, taking this microcosm of San Francisco art with it. And it is a dense sampling with over a hundred works, many on view for the first time, by not just Duncan and Jess, but their broad circle of friends. It’s definitely an exhibition that perhaps reaches a little too far, with not every work or artist in the maelstrom having enough of a impact or relevance, but with enough energy through the couple at the center to keep it grounded.

Duncan is better known for his poetry, and with good reason, as while his crayon drawings in the exhibition have a thick textured color to them that seem to almost make the smell of wax whiff into the gallery, they’re not on the same level as his writing that took that same embrace of motifs into an engaging rhythm of the esoteric. However, they are interesting in revealing another side to his work and how he and Jess both opened their practice to the focus of the other. Jess, for his part, came into visual art after working as a chemist with plutonium during World War II, but had a dream in 1948 of the Earth being destroyed in 1975 and switched to art.

C’mon and get to it! Read more at Hyperallergic.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, January 24th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.