In the Galleries: An Opening of the Field

By Christopher Harrity

Originally published on Advocate.com March 25 2014 3:00 AM ET


Robert Duncan and Jess, 1959

 

Jess Collins, known simply as Jess, and his partner, the poet Robert Duncan, were one of the most fascinating artistic couples of the 20th century.

Soon after meeting in San Francisco in the early 1950s, they began a romantic and professional partnership that lasted until Duncan’s death.

Their newfound domesticity helped focus their creative process, and they ultimately merged their personal and artistic lives. Jess’s collages and drawings were often published to accompany Duncan’s poems and essays. Duncan’s writings and ideas in turn made their way into Jess’s dense and allusive works. 

Visionaries in their own right, the couple heavily influenced an entire generation of poets and painters who would gather at their San Francisco home, which served as a salon and gallery space for their artist friends.

At left: The catalog published in conjunction with the exhibit by Pomegranate Communications

This exhibition looks at Jess’s and Duncan’s influence and unique position as precursors of Postmodernism and presents works by the couple, along with a selection of works by artists such as R. B. Kitaj, Edward Corbett, Wallace Berman, Lawrence Jordan, and George Herms, as well as the poets Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, and Michael McClure. The exhibition also includes a group of posters Jess made for the Berkeley Cinema Guild run in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the young Pauline Kael.

"An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle"
American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center
April 26 through Aug. 17
4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20016

Robert Duncan
Untitled, 1947
Wax crayon on paper. 29 x 23 in.
Courtesy of SUNY Buffalo

Jess
To Corbett, 1951
Oil on canvas. 46 x 36 in.
Courtesy of Odyssia Gallery, New York

Ronald Bladen
Connie’s Painting, c. 1957-1958
Oil on canvas. 38 x 38 ½ in.
Courtesy of Loretta Howard Gallery, New York

Jess
Sent On The VIIth Wave, 1979
Collage and mixed media. 39 x 33 in.
Courtesy of The Buck Collection, Laguna Beach, CA

Jess
Feignting Spell, 1954
Oil on canvas. 42 x 48 in.
Courtesy of Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA

George Herms
The Zodiac Behind Glass: Box #5 Leo, 1965
Mixed media. 25 x 25 x 4 in.
Courtesy of Margaret Nielsen, Las Vegas, NV

Jess
The Enamored Mage: Translation #6, 1965
Oil on canvas over wood. 24 ½ x 30 in.
Courtesy of The M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA

Jess
Paste-Ups by Jess, 1971
Collage. 22 x 28 in.
Courtesy of Odyssia Gallery, New York