Joan Jonas

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Joan Jonas
Jonas in 2010
Joan Amerman Edwards

(1936-07-13) July 13, 1936 (age 87)
Known forVideo art, performance art, sculpture
MovementPerformance art
AwardsMaya Deren Award, 1989
Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award, 1995
Anonymous Was A Woman Award, 1998

Joan Jonas (born July 13, 1936) is an American visual artist and a pioneer of video and performance art, "a central figure in the performance art movement of the late 1960s".[1] Jonas' projects and experiments were influential in the creation of video performance art as a medium. Her influences also extended to conceptual art, theatre, performance art and other visual media.[2] She lives and works in New York and Nova Scotia, Canada.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Jonas was born in 1936 in New York City.[4][5] In 1958 she received a bachelor's degree in Art History from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts.[4] She later studied sculpture and drawing at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and received an MFA in Sculpture from Columbia University in 1965.[4] Immersed in New York's downtown art scene of the 1960s, Jonas studied with the choreographer Trisha Brown for two years.[6] Jonas also worked with choreographers Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton.[7]


Though 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 outdoors in urban or rural landscapes and/or industrial environments. Between 1968 and 1971, Jonas performed Mirror Pieces, works which used mirrors to as a central motif or prop.[8] In these early 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 Wind (1968), Jonas filmed performers stiffly passing through the field of view against a wind that lent the choreography a psychological mystique.[9]

In 1970, Jonas went on a long trip to Japan — where she bought her first video camera and saw Noh, Bunraku and Kabuki theater — with the sculptor Richard Serra.[10] Her 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.[8] In one such work, Organic Honey's Visual Telepathy (1972), Jonas scans her own fragmented image onto a video screen.[8] In Disturbances (1973), a woman swims silently beneath another woman's reflection.[11] 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. 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.[12]

In 1975, Jonas appeared as a performer in the movie Keep Busy, by the photographer Robert Frank and novelist-screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer.[11] 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 Island 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.[13] She also created Revolted by the Thought of Known Places... (1992) and Woman in the Well (1996/2000).

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,[14] Jonas draws on Aby Warburg's work on Hopi imagery.

Since 1970, Jonas has spent part of every summer in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She has lived and worked in Greece, Morocco, India, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, Poland, Hungary, and Ireland.[11]

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."[15] 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' performance inspired by the writings of German anthropologist Aby Warburg, The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things, was commissioned by Dia Beacon and was twice performed between 2005 and 2006. This project established an ongoing and continuing collaboration with the pianist Jason Moran.[16]

For the season 2014/2015 in the Vienna State Opera Joan Jonas designed a large-scale picture (176 sqm) as part of the exhibition series Safety Curtain, conceived by museum in progress.[17]

Jonas was also featured as a choreographer for Robert Ashley's Opera titled Celestial Excursions in 2003.[7]


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.[11] In 1994, she was made a full professor at the State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart, Germany.[11] Since 1998, she has been a professor of visual arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she is currently Professor Emerita in Art, Culture, and Technology within the School of Architecture and Planning.[1]

Exhibitions and performances[edit]


Jonas has performed her works at countless institutions and venues, including:

Solo exhibitions[edit]

Jonas has had a number of solo exhibitions, including:

Group exhibitions[edit]

Jonas has participated in many international group exhibitions, including:

In 2009, she exhibited for the first (and only other) time at the Venice Biennale.[31]

In 2015, Jonas represented the United States of America at the Venice Biennale.[32][33] She was the sixth female artist to represent the United States at Venice since 1990.[31]

In 2019 Jonas work was presented at the Animalesque group show at Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Sweden.[34]

Other activities[edit]

In 2023, Jonas served on the jury that chose Sarah Lucas as first winner of the New Museum’s $400,000 Hostetler/Wrigley Sculpture Award.[35]


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).[6] 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.[1]

In 2009, Jonas was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.[31]

In 2012, Jonas was honored on the occasion of the Kitchen Spring Gala Benefit.[36]

Jonas was named Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon 2016.[37] In 2018, Jonas won the Kyoto Prize for Art.[38]

Jonas has received awards from Anonymous Was A Woman (1998); the Rockefeller Foundation (1990); American Film Institute's Maya Deren Award for Video (1989); Guggenheim Foundation (1976); and the National Endowment for the Arts (1974).[7]

In 2023 Jonas was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, as an Honorary Royal Academician (HonRA).[39]

Art market[edit]

Joan Jonas is represented in New York City by Gavin Brown's enterprise[40] and in Los Angeles by Rosamund Felsen Gallery.[41]

In addition to working on her art, Jonas has been serving on the advisory board of the Hauser & Wirth Institute since 2018.[42]

Public collections[edit]

Jonas' work can be found in a number of public institutions, including:

Archival collections[edit]

Archival materials from the Jonas' personal archives have been made available in the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base, an open source resource from the Artists Archive Initiative at New York University.[44]


  1. ^ a b c Faculty: Joan Jonas ACT at MIT - MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology.
  2. ^ Tate. "Five Things to Know: Joan Jonas". Tate. Retrieved April 25, 2024.
  3. ^ "Artist Joan Jonas", Venice Bienniale, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Joan Jonas: Biography" Archived 2011-01-21 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Great Women Artists. Phaidon Press. 2019. p. 203. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  6. ^ a b "Collection Online - Joan Jonas". Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Archived from the original on April 16, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c "Joan Jonas".
  8. ^ a b c d Johnson, Cecile. "MoMA The Collection: Joan Jonas", Museum of Modern Art, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  9. ^ "Electronic Arts Intermix: Wind, Joan Jonas". Retrieved March 31, 2017.
  10. ^ Lisa Cohen (April 5, 2015), Joan Jonas: All at Once Archived April 14, 2015, at the Wayback Machine T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
  11. ^ a b c d e Susan Morgan (April 21, 1996). "Finding the Emotion in Images". Los Angeles Times.
  12. ^ Fisher, Cora (May 2010). "Joan Jonas Mirage". The Brooklyn Rail.
  13. ^ "Joan Jonas. My New Theater 1. 1997 | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved April 1, 2017.
  14. ^ Joan Jonas at the Renaissance Society Accessed 2018-01-08.
  15. ^ Art, Walker. "Joan Jonas — Collections — Walker Art Center". Retrieved April 1, 2017.
  16. ^ "Joan Jonas:The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things". Dia Beacon. 2005. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  17. ^ Safety Curtain 2014/15: Joan Jonas. Accessed 2014-10-09.
  18. ^ "Joan Jonas: The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things" Archived 2014-08-19 at the Wayback Machine, Dia Art Foundation, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  19. ^ "Joan Jonas" Archived 2014-08-19 at the Wayback Machine, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  20. ^ "Joan Jonas" Archived August 19, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Performa, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  21. ^ "Art Night: Southwark Cathedral" Archived August 20, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, ICA, Retrieved July 8, 2016.
  22. ^ Stone, Katie. "Joan Jonas: Five Works Queens Museum of Art", Brooklyn Rail, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  23. ^ "Joan Jonas: Light Time Tales", HangarBicocca, Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  24. ^ "Safety Curtain 2014/2015: Joan Jonas", a project by museum in progress, opening: November 14, 2014, Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  25. ^ Staff, N. Y. R. "Joan Jonas: What Is Found in the Windowless House Is True". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  26. ^ "Joan Jonas", Tate Modern, Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  27. ^ Schwabsky, Barry (September 4, 2019). "Joan Jonas: Moving Off The Land II". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  28. ^ Julia Halperin (April 16, 2014), Video veteran Joan Jonas to represent US in Venice Archived 2014-04-17 at the Wayback Machine The Art Newspaper.
  29. ^ "Point of View", New Museum, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  30. ^ "Artists in the exhibition" Archived 2014-02-27 at the Wayback Machine, MoCA Los Angeles, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  31. ^ a b c Sebastian Smee (April 26, 2014). "Joan Jonas to represent US at Venice Biennale". Boston Globe.
  32. ^ Carol Vogel (April 15, 2014), Joan Jonas to Represent United States at 2015 Venice Biennale New York Times.
  33. ^ Smith, Roberta (May 8, 2015). "Review: Joan Jonas's Venice Biennale Pavilion Is a Triumph". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 1, 2017.
  34. ^ Exhibition Animalisk, Bildmuseet, archived from the original on October 20, 2020, retrieved January 20, 2021
  35. ^ Alex Greenberger (28 March 2023), Sarah Lucas Wins New Museum’s $400,000 Sculpture Prize ARTnews.
  36. ^ Gary Shapiro (May 25, 2012), They Can Surely Stand the Heat Wall Street Journal.
  37. ^ "Art Icon 2016: Joan Jonas". Whitechapel Gallery. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  38. ^ Greenberger, Alex (June 15, 2018). "Joan Jonas Wins $900,000 Kyoto Prize". ARTnews. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  39. ^ "Joan Jonas | Artist | Royal Academy of Arts". Royal Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on May 11, 2024. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  40. ^ "Gavin Brown's enterprise - Artists - Joan Jonas". Archived from the original on March 18, 2018. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  41. ^ "Artists - Rosamund Felsen Gallery". Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  42. ^ Alex Greenberger (November 27, 2018), Aiming to Preserve Artists’ Legacies, Hauser & Wirth Founds Nonprofit Institute for Archival Projects ARTnews.
  43. ^ "Collection Online: Joan Jonas", Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  44. ^ "The Joan Jonas Knowledge Base | Artist Archives Initiative". Retrieved October 1, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]