While writing about D.H. Lawrence and his rose (6/14/14), I was also adding a connection to the Ubu Web site of art/avant-garde films on my links page. This conjunction got me thinking about Jay De Feo's monumental painting, The Rose, and Bruce Conner's 1967 film about the painting's removal from De Feo's studio in San Francisco: "THE WHITE ROSE." The Ubu Film and Video site does not have any listings for Conner's work, but I did manage to find a copy of the film online:
With its super-stark high-contrast black and white images and wistful Miles Davis soundtrack, there is likely no more melancholy film that involves a forklift and a team of Bekins movers. This version of the film nearly reverses Lawrence: there, whatever rose he might have been imagining has long-since withered and gone while his words about the bloom endure, while in the tudou.com copy of Conner's film, the massive painting (it weighs a ton) seems so much more substantial than the film that documents it: a second or third-generation video dub of a dodgy print of Conner's original. The film threatens to dissolve into static or pixels while the monolithic slab of The Rose is lowered, crated, and pushed through a hole in the studio wall onto a waiting lift platform before making its last appearance, its bottom edge glimpsed inside a moving van pulling away. The final images find De Feo sitting in the gap though which the work of eight years of her life has vanished. Is she disconsolate? Relieved? Both?
To find a home for the painting, De Feo agreed to loan it to the San Francisco Art Institute, where it was installed in a conference room. After a few years, worries about the condition of the painting led to its surface being entirely covered. Later, a false wall was installed, completely masking the painting. There is a good, short documentary on YouTube that explains what happened next:
The painting, surely a key American artwork, is now in the permanent collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. It is very tempting to find an allegory in the walling-up and subsequent rediscovery of The Rose--a statement about the fate of indisputably visionary women artists (like De Feo, Lee Bontecou, Vija Celmins…), whose name recognition still lags far behind that of their male artist contemporaries (Pollack, Stella, Johns, etc. etc.). But many of these artists would likely find this perspective on their work limiting and tedious, and in any case, there is always the art itself, looking more substantial and amazing than ever.