Joan Jonas

It's the shamanistic idea—the performer goes through the actions so that the audience can experience them also... It takes you into a space that you wouldn't otherwise be in.

Joan Jonas was born in 1936 in New York, where she currently lives and works. She received a BA in Art History from Mount Holyoke College in 1958 and studied sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She earned an MFA in sculpture from Columbia University, New York, in 1965, and also studied with the dancer Trisha Brown for two years.

In her performance piece Mirror Check (1970), Jonas stood nude with a small, round mirror and examined details of her body while the audience watched from a distance of thirty feet. The audience, unable to see the reflected images, had to experience them vicariously through Jonas’s reaction. “It’s the shamanistic idea—the performer goes through the actions so that the audience can experience them also. It takes you into a space that you wouldn’t otherwise be in,” Jonas has said. She began using video in 1972 in the performance, Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy. The piece features the artist wearing a headdress, mask, and gown, and she manipulates her image with mirrors, lights, and water into multiple refractions of disguise and transparency. That work inspired a 1979 series of etchings made at Crown Point Press titled Hurricane Series.

The first retrospective of Jonas’s work was held at the Berkeley Art Museum in 1980. In 2004, the Queens Museum of Art presented Five Works, a large-scale exhibition of work representing thirty-five years of her art. Jonas presented The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things, a performance piece, at Dia: Beacon in New York in 2005 and 2006. She represented the United States at the 56th Venice Biennale, presenting the multi-media installation They Come to Us Without a Word commissioned by the MIT List Visual Arts Centre. It premiered for the first time in the U.S. in 2019 at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture.

Jonas has been awarded fellowships and grants for choreography, video, and visual arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2018 she received the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation in Japan. She has had solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1994); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2011); the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2013); and the Tate Modern (2018). Her work is in many museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona. Since 1998, Jonas has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is Professor Emerita in their Program in Art, Culture, and Technology within the School of Architecture and Planning. She is represented by Gladstone Gallery, New York; Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles; and Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan.

-Dana Zullo, Crown Point Press

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