For Proof of the Power of Collaboration, Look No Further than Joan Jonas

It’s not just you—the 87-year-old visual artist is having a major moment in New York and beyond, from a downtown retrospective at the Drawing Center to a mammoth MoMA show and even the shelves of Rachel Comey boutiques.

Joan Jonas. Mirage. 1976. University Art Museum(now UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), Berkeley, 1980. Photo: Benjamin Blackwell. © Joan Jonas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Once “Joan Jonas: Good Night Good Morning” opens at MoMA on March 17, there will be no fewer than four concurrent exhibitions of her work happening around the world. In Soho, the Drawing Center’s “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” sheds light how the artist’s drawing practice has informed her boundary-breaking works in sculpture, video, and performance art. She is also a participant in Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Biennale, and recently enjoyed her Australian debut with the opening of “Sun Signals” this past month at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.

Her art even played a role in ending Rachel Comey’s hiatus from New York Fashion Week. In September, the fashion designer was one of a few who looked to artistic collaborators to inform their Spring/Summer ‘24 collections. The Rachel Comey x Joan Jonas capsule, which recently launched in her Soho store with a shoppable cocktail hour and exhibition walkthrough on the opening night of her Drawing Center show, struck many as unexpected yet genius. Collaboration is a hallmark of Jonas’ practice, especially in video and performance—two categories in which she is routinely named a “pioneer.” What’s more, particularly in an era of “collabs” no one asked for and even fewer care about, is that she and her creative partners do not aid and abet in the lazy consumption of art. Even in retail, which is rife with such unsolicited and underwhelming partnerships, what Comey and Jonas struck up is thrilling.

Courtesy of Rachel Comey.

Jonas opened her studio and Gladstone Gallery archive to Comey, who seized the opportunity to allude to a range of works as diverse as Jonas’ 1989 short film Volcano Saga, starring Tilda Swinton, to a preponderance of mirrors and reflective fabrics in the clothing. Looking at the edit, and what went into production, one can’t help but wonder what it all means. Jonas’ work asks viewers to interrogate their perceptions and reactions to it. Masks, mirrors, and layered imagery permeate her videos, as do disquieting, almost lunar landscapes and the sea. Her MoMA show opens with a cross-disciplinary sound and poetry performance featuring composer David Michael DiGregorio, scientist David Gruber, poets Susan Howe and Precious Okoyomon, scholar André Lepecki, and choreographer Ralph Lemon.

With a career spanning decades, it’s no wonder that Jonas’s collaborators span ages and even species. (Her dogs are a frequent source of inspiration, and often star in her work.) Her MoMA show incorporates text used in a 2012 performance with jazz musician Jason Moran, whose entire family, children included, Jonas has since worked with. “What… strikes me about Joan is that she always works across generations,” Moran said in an interview. “She asks for everybody’s input, and she really wants to know. She’ll tell people, ‘Go stand there. Let me look at it for a second. Now how do you feel standing there?’ I work with some people who don’t deeply care about their collaborators the way she does.”

Joan Jonas. Mirror Piece I. 1969. Performance, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. Courtesy the artist. © Joan Jonas/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The only thing better than these retrospectives—well, maybe not better, but pretty great nonetheless—is the proliferation of covetable merch those museum gift shops stock in their wake.

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