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Jess, Boob #3, 1954
Jess, Boob #3, 1954

Jess (1923–2004) was an influential artist who emerged in the 1950s from within the literary context of Beat culture in San Francisco. Focusing on his intimate ties to poetry, books, and printed matter, Jess: To and From the Printed Page features examples of the celebrated impastos from his "Translation" series together with many of his collages and designs, as well as the books and magazines in which they were reproduced.

In concentrating on art created especially for publication and reproduction, this exhibition will show Jess’s imagery to be a form of dialogue with the written word. Jess collaborated extensively with poets and other writers, and worked with small presses and limited-edition publications throughout his life. During the early 1950s, he and his life partner, poet Robert Duncan, ran the Ubu Gallery, named after the anti-hero created by French avant-garde writer Alfred Jarry more than a century ago. Jess’s own hero was Max Ernst, the Dada/Surrealist who made entire books of collage narratives. Among Jess’s first collages, which he called “paste-ups,” are the Tricky Cad Case books of Dick Tracy cartoons, cut up and scrambled on page after page of deliberately disordered sequences. These are among the works that led Jess to be considered a progenitor of Pop art and an early exponent of appropriation art.

He ultimately stands apart from any contemporary art movements, though, and is perhaps best seen as a late practitioner of Surrealism, a radical movement championed by poets and artists in 1920s Paris that was literary in origin. Besides Ernst, two other key references for Jess are writers Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, whose use of words as found objects, broken rules of syntax, and penchant for puns are all translated by Jess into his collage constructions. Something of a cult artist, Jess may not be widely known, but his art is deeply revered. The diverse, intricate work presented in this exhibition rewards close and sustained viewing, and provides a sense of the intensely fertile literary and art-world environment in which he thrived.

The exhibition, curated by Ingrid Schaffner, senior curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue.



San Jose Museum of Art
San Jose, California
March 18 – June 10, 2007

Pasadena Museum of California Art
Pasadena, California
October 14, 2007 – January 6, 2008

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas
February 12 – April 8, 2008

The University of Iowa Museum of Art
Iowa City, Iowa
September 12 – November 9, 2008

Additional venues to be confirmed


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