An exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art positions the artist known as Jess as the center of a creative nexus, bringing together his works with a smattering of California artists.
It is clear to me now that seeing Jess’s art was the beginning of my awareness that there was a multitude of what John Ashbery called “other traditions.”
Revisiting the work of Jess, Robert Duncan, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who just turned 100 years old.
An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle presents a slice of the rich Northern California art world of the postwar years. Much of what is here is not “gallery art,” in a commercial sense, but art created by and for a small community of friends, colleagues, and lovers, rooted in a specific place and cultural moment.
Back in the 1950s in the Bay Area, the center for creatives a little off the trail in experimental art was a Victorian house packed to its wooden walls with books. As the home of Jess and Robert Duncan, a couple where within their own relationship there was a constant collaboration between visual art and writing, it became one of the magnets for an eclectic group of artists.