b. 1936, New York
Described by London’s ‘Guardian’ newspaper as a “titan of the American avant garde”, the internationally acclaimed, New York-based, performance and video artist Joan Jonas has made an indelible mark on the visual arts over nearly a half century – and continues to do so. Performance opened things up in the art world, says Jonas, whose pioneering works in New York’s late-1960s downtown art scene drew inspiration from a variety of artistic genres and cultures. Trained in art history and sculpture at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and at New York’s Columbia University, where she received an MFA in Sculpture in 1965, she soon abandoned her career as a sculptor and turned to the relatively unexplored area of performance and video, incorporating multimedia and featuring a variety of themes from mythological narratives to mirrors. Beginning in the late 1960s, she performed the groundbreaking Mirror Pieces that uses mirrors as a visual device. This was followed by, among other works, ‘Organic Honey’s Visual Telepathy’ (1972), which explores women’s shifting roles. In the 1990s, in pieces such as the ‘My New Theater’ series, Jonas moved away from a dependence on her physical presence. A major retrospective of her work, ‘Light Time Tales’, was showcased in 2014-2015 at Milan’s HangarBicocca. Her multimedia installation, ‘They Come to Us Without a Word’, evoking an ecologically challenged world, drew huge crowds to the US Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. A solo exhibition at DHC/Art in Montreal ran from April to September 2016. Winner of numerous honours, including a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Jonas taught at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and was a professor at Stuttgart’s State Academy of Art and Design and for 17 years at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where she is Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology.