Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas was born in 1936 in New York. A pioneer of performance and video art, Jonas works in video, installation, sculpture, and drawing, often collaborating with musicians and dancers to realize improvisational works that are equally at home in the museum gallery and on the theatrical stage. Drawing on mythic stories from various cultures, Jonas invests texts from the past with the politics of the present.

By wearing masks in some works, and drawing while performing on stage in others, she disrupts the conventions of theatrical storytelling to emphasize potent symbols and critical self-awareness. From masquerading in disguise before the camera to turning mirrors on the audience, she turns doubling and reflection into metaphors for the tenuous divide between subjective and objective vision, and the loss of fixed identities.

Joan Jonas received a BA from Mount Holyoke College (1958), attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1958-61), and received an MFA from Columbia University (1965). She is a professor emerita at MIT.

Among her many honors are awards from Anonymous Was A Woman (1998); the Rockefeller Foundation (1990); American Film Institute’s Maya Deren Award for Video (1989); Guggenheim Foundation (1976); and the National Endowment for the Arts (1974). Jonas has had major exhibitions at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, Stockholm (2013); Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2013); Documenta (2002, 2013); Performa (2013); The Kitchen (2012); Bergen Kunsthall (2011); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); Venice Biennale (2009); Dia:Beacon (2006); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (2006); Jeu de Paume (2005); Renaissance Society (2004); Tate Modern (2004); Queens Museum of Art (2003); Taipei Biennial (2002); and Dia Center for the Arts (2000), among others. Joan Jonas lives and works in New York and Nova Scotia, Canada.

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Teaching with Contemporary Art

"Yes, and…": How Artists Are Using Improvisation and Spontaneity in Their Work

Art21 Educator Erica Richard inspires letting go and incorporating spontaneity into practices through a playlist of Art21 films.

Deep Focus

A Fickle Trickster Screen

Although Joan Jonas might not work in the same public, ad-hoc settings, her recent work connects live performance, drawing, and live-feed video in a circular fashion to carve out new depths.


“Drawing is like practicing the piano, because the first ones that I do often don’t come out so I have to practice.”

Joan Jonas