Joan Jonas

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Joan Jonas
Born 1936 (1936)
New York City, New York
Nationality American
Known for Video art, Performance art, Sculpture
Movement Performance art
Awards Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award, 1995

Joan Jonas is an American pioneer of video and performance art and one of the most important female artists to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She lives and works in New York> and Cape Breton (Nova Scotia).

Early life and education[edit]

Jonas was born in 1936 in New York City. Between 1954 and 1958 she studied sculpture and art history at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts,[1] sculpture and drawing at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and sculpture, modern poetry and Greek Art at Columbia University.[2] Immersed in New York's downtown art scene of the 1960s, Jonas studied with the choreographer Trisha Brown for two years.[1]


Jonas began her career as a sculptor. By 1968 she moved into what was then leading-edge territory: mixing performance with props and mediated images, situated outside in natural and/or industrial environments. In her early works, such as Wind (1968), Jonas filmed performers stiffly passing through the field of view against a wind that lent the choreography a psychological mystique. Songdelay (1973), filmed with both telephoto and wide-angle lenses (which produce opposing extremes in depth of field) drew on Jonas' travels in Japan, where she saw groups of Noh performers clapping wood blocks and making angular movements.

Jonas’ video performances between 1972 and 1976 pared the cast down to one actor, the artist herself performing in her New York loft as Organic Honey, her seminal alter-ego invented as an “electronic erotic seductress,” whose doll-like visage seen reflected bits on camera explored the fragmented female image and women’s shifting roles. drawings, costumes, masks, and interactions with the recorded image were effects that optically related to a doubling of perception and meaning. In her videotape Disturbances (1973), a woman swims silently beneath another woman's reflection.[2] In a video interview for MoMA, Jonas described her work as androgynous; earlier works were more involved in the search for a feminine vernacular in art, she explains, and, unlike sculpture and painting, video was more open, less dominated by men.[3] For Jonas, in Organic Honey and earlier performances, the mirror became a symbol of (self-)portraiture, representation, the body, and real vs. imaginary, while also sometimes adding an element of danger and a connection to the audience that was integral to the work.

In 1976 with The Juniper Tree, Jonas arrived at a narrative structure from diverse literary sources, such as fairy tales, mythology, poetry, and folk songs, formalizing a highly complex, nonlinear method of presentation. Using a colorful theatrical set and recorded sound, The Juniper Tree retold a Grimm Brothers tale of an archetypal evil stepmother and her family. In the 1990s, Jonas’ My New Theater series moved away from a dependence on her physical presence. The three pieces investigated, in sequence: a Cape Breton dancer and his local culture; a dog jumping through a hoop while Jonas draws a landscape; and finally, using stones, costumes, memory-laden objects, and her dog, a video about the act of performing.

In her installation/performance commissioned for Documenta 11, Lines in the Sand (2002), Jonas investigated themes of the self and the body in a performance installation based on the writer H.D.’s (Hilda Doolittle) epic poem “Helen in Egypt” (1951–55), which reworks the myth of Helen of Troy. Jonas sited many of her early performances at The Kitchen, including Funnel (1972) and the screening of Vertical Roll (1972).

In The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things, produced by The Renaissance Society in 2004,[4] Jonas draws on Aby Warburg's work on Hopi imagery.

Jonas’ works were first performed in the 1960s and '70s for some of the most influential artists of her generation, including Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Dan Graham and Laurie Anderson. While she is widely known in Europe, her groundbreaking performances are lesser known in the United States, where, as critic Douglas Crimp wrote of her work in 1983, “the rupture that is effected in modernist practices has subsequently been repressed, smoothed over.” Yet, in restaging early and recent works, Jonas continues to find new layers of meanings in themes and questions of gender and identity that have fueled her art for over thirty years.

Jonas' projects and experiments provided the foundation on which much video performance art would be based. Her influences also extended to conceptual art, theatre performance and other visual media.

Her works include: Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy (1972), The Juniper Tree (1976), Volcano Saga (1985), Revolted by the Thought of Known Places… (1992), Woman in the Well (1996/2000), her portable My New Theater series (1997–1999), Lines in the Sand (2002), and The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things (2004).

Jonas also appears as a performer in Keep Busy, a 1975 movie collaboration between photographer Robert Frank and novelist-screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer.[2]

Since 1970, Jonas has spent part of every summer in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She has lived and worked in Greece, Morocco, India, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Poland, Hungary, and Ireland.[2]


From 1993, the New York-based Jonas spent part of each year in Los Angeles, teaching a course in New Genres at the UCLA School of the Arts.[2] In 1994, she was made a full professor at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart, Germany.[2] Since 1998, she has been a professor of visual arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[5]


In 1994, Jonas was honored with a major retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in which she transformed several of her performance works into installations for the museum. In 2003 she had solo exhibitions at Rosamund Felsen Gallery in Los Angeles and the Pat Hearn Gallery in New York City. The Queens Museum of Art exhibited "Joan Jonas: Five Works" from December 2003 through March 2004. It was the first major exhibition of Jonas’s work in a New York museum. The exhibition included a video room as well as a survey of drawings, photographs, and sketchbooks. Curated by Valerie Smith, QMA Director of Exhibitions, the exhibition catalog can be seen here: [1] She has also had solo exhibitions and presented performances at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1974); The Kitchen, New York (1975); San Francisco Museum of Art (1976); Kunstmuseum Bern (2004); and Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2008).[1] Jonas has also been included in international group exhibitions, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany, six times since 1972.[6] In 2009, she exhibited for the first (and only other) time at the Venice Biennale.[7]

In 2015, Jonas will represent the United States of America at the Venice Biennale.[8] She will be the sixth female artist to represent the United States at Venice since 1990.[7]


Jonas has been awarded fellowships and grants for choreography, video, and visual arts from the National Endowment for the Arts; Rockefeller Foundation; Contemporary Art Television (CAT) Fund; Television Laboratory at WNET/13, New York; Artists' Television Workshop at WXXI-TV, Rochester, New York; and Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD).[1]

Jonas has received the Hyogo Prefecture Museum of Modern Art Prize at the Tokyo International Video Art Festival, the Polaroid Award for Video, and the American Film Institute Maya Deren Award for Video.[5] In 2012, Jonas was honored on the occasion of the Kitchen Spring Gala Benefit.[9]

Art market[edit]

Joan Jonas is represented in Paris and New York City by Yvon Lambert Gallery.[10] She is represented in Los Angeles by Rosamund Felsen Gallery.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d "Collection Online - Joan Jonas". Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Susan Morgan (April 21, 1996). "Finding the Emotion in Images". Los Angeles Times. 
  3. ^ Fisher, Cora (May 2010). "Joan Jonas Mirage". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  4. ^ Joan Jonas at the Renaissance Society. Accessed 2012-06-06.
  5. ^ a b Faculty: Joan Jonas ACT at MIT - MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology.
  6. ^ Julia Halperin (April 16, 2014), Video veteran Joan Jonas to represent US in Venice The Art Newspaper.
  7. ^ a b Sebastian Smee (April 26, 2014). "Joan Jonas to represent US at Venice Biennale". Boston Globe. 
  8. ^ Carol Vogel (April 15, 2014), Joan Jonas to Represent United States at 2015 Venice Biennale New York Times.
  9. ^ Gary Shapiro (May 25, 2012), They Can Surely Stand the Heat Wall Street Journal.
  10. ^ Yvon Lambert - Artists
  11. ^ Rosamund Felson Gallery - Artists

Further reading[edit]

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