One of the founders of the Pattern and Decoration movement in America in the 1970s, Joyce Kozloff is an internationally recognized painter, public muralist and feminist whose long-term passions have been history, culture and the decorative and popular arts. She has stated “At its best, decoration is the coming together of painting, sculpture, architecture and the applied arts. Decoration humanizes our living and working spaces. It connects with ancient, worldwide traditions and crafts.” Kozloff’s intricate designs can be seen in her opulent decorations of tesserae and mosaic tiles, maps, frescoes, books, prints, watercolors and public murals. Her commitment to the revival of ornamentalism as a source for feminist art, plus her knowledge of art history and culture of Eastern and Western civilizations, place Kozloff among America’s more original and engaging artists.
Born in Somerville, New Jersey on December 14, 1942, Joyce Blumberg Kozloff comes from a Jewish heritage of Lithuanian descent. Joyce’s father, Leonard Blumberg, an attorney, was born in Bayonne, New Jersey on July 12, 1915. His parents were Jewish but not religious. His father, Jacob Blumberg, was born of Lithuanian descent in New York City (1880–1955) and his mother, Fannie Joseph (1891–1966), was born in Vilna, Lithuania. Joyce’s mother is Adele Rosenberg, a homemaker and community activist who was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on January 19, 1916. Adele’s parents were Robert Rosenberg (1882–1966), born in Vilna, district of Lithuania, and Mary Katzman (1890–1992). Although both her parents were Orthodox Jews, Kozloff’s mother considers herself to be a relaxed Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher at home and attends an Orthodox synagogue with her family on holy days. Kozloff’s parents met at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and married in 1940. Joyce is the eldest of three children. Bruce Blumberg was born on April 6, 1945 and is an attorney. Allen Blumberg was born on May 12, 1947 and is a real estate developer and independent film writer/director/producer.
Kozloff studied art in summer courses at the Art Students League in New York in 1959, at Rutgers University in 1962 and at the Università di Firenze, Italy in 1963. She graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a B.F.A. in 1964 and gained an M.F.A. in 1967 from Columbia University in New York. For over thirty years she has been married to the distinguished photographer, critic and art historian Max Kozloff (born in Chicago on June 21, 1933). They were married on July 2, 1967 at her parents’ home in Bound Brook, New Jersey, by their Orthodox rabbi. Their son Nikolas Kozloff was born on March 26, 1969 in New York. Today he is a historian, having taken his Ph.D. in Latin American history. Max Kozloff comes from an atheist background; neither Joyce, Max nor Nikolas are observant or religious, but consider themselves Jewish in a cultural and social sense. “We feel that we are in a tradition of secular, politically engaged Jews.”
Early in her career Kozloff was drawn to the decorative traditions of Mexico, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey and studied books about Islamic patterning. A significant turning point in her development as a painter and feminist was the summer of 1973 when she lived in Mexico and discovered Pre-Columbian folk art. She became engrossed with patterns and their cultural significance, particularly after realizing that most of the decorative arts she admired had been done anonymously by women. She said “The feminist revelation—that the decorative arts were largely created by anonymous women and people of color, and therefore degraded in the eyes of historians and critics—forever changed my thinking.”
She developed Mexican-influenced sketches and turned them into large acrylic abstract paintings which she described as “deliberately decorative.” They were shown at her third solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York in 1974, her first true pattern painting show. Equally attracted to the complexity and beauty of Islamic ornament and tile interiors, she visited Morocco in 1975 and Turkey in 1978.
In January, 1975 Kozloff joined with artists of shared concerns at the studio of Robert Zakanitch to consider the new tendency of decoration. They became the Pattern and Decoration Movement. In November of that year the first meeting of the Heresies group was held at Joyce Kozloff’s loft in New York. As Kozloff recalls “The Feminist Art Journal and Women Artists News already existed. They had monographic articles about existing artists—we wanted a magazine with ideas.” The collective founded the journal Heresies, dedicated to issues of feminism, art and politics.
During the late 1970s women artists had become increasingly prominent in the field of public art in the United States. By 1977 Kozloff had lost interest in pattern painting on canvas and stated, “I had begun to think of my paintings as walls.” She created An Interior Decorated, an environment composed of a glazed ceramic tile floor (comprised of one thousand star-and-hexagon-shaped tiles), ceramic pilasters, silkscreened hanging silks and lithographs on silk laminated on rice paper. The installation was first exhibited at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1979. Kozloff said the entire piece was her “personal anthology of the decorative arts” because it includes motifs from so many traditions, such as American Indian pottery, Chinese painted porcelains, French lace patterns, Sumerian carvings, Celtic illuminations, Turkish woven and brocaded silks and Coptic textiles. Rather than using assistants Kozloff prefers to hand paint all her tiles, a highly labor intensive process but one which demonstrates her respect for traditional cultures and methods. Rejecting the romantic concept of the artist as an inspired genius working in solitude, she also readily discloses her sources and techniques. Art critic Carrie Rickey wrote in the catalog of the exhibition, “An Interior Decorated is where painting meets architecture, where art meets craft, where personal commitment meets public art.”
Kozloff believes women artists “really have a passionate commitment to extending art into the real world.” Between 1979 and 1997 Kozloff completed fourteen major public art commissions. Her first public mural was New England Decorative Arts produced for the Harvard Square Subway Station in Cambridge, Massachusetts through the Cambridge Arts on the Line Program (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Boston architects). The work is an eighty-three foot long mural which consists of painted, glazed ceramic tiles in shapes of eight-point stars, octagons and squares, celebrating New England through motifs drawn from native folk art such as carved gravestones, traditional quilts, wall stencils, eighteenth-century engravings of clipper ships. In the center is a naïve painting of a New England landscape. Accepted in 1979, the piece was not in situ until January of 1985.
More commissions followed, such as the Amtrak Station, Wilmington, Delaware (1980–1984), San Francisco Airport (1982–1983), Humboldt-Hospital Subway Station, Buffalo, New York (1983–1984), the Suburban Train Station in Philadelphia (1985)—her first piece executed entirely in mosaic—and “D” is for Detroit, the Financial Station of Detroit’s Downtown People Mover (1987). In each visual environment Kozloff paints a cultural portrait of the city, one tile at a time, and works as both an architectural historian and a decorator with architects, planners and the community. In “D” is for Detroit the elevated rail system was transformed into a monumental illuminated manuscript within a 36-by-47-foot mural, a tile piece with larger-than-life creatures such as bulls and bears, because it is in the financial district. She said, “I have a great fondness for the animals of the zodiac” and used mythological creatures from astronomical charts and medieval bestiaries.
Like that of other feminists, Kozloff’s transition to public art reflects her belief that artists must engage with the culture in order to change it. She questions the notion of art as being a rarefied commodity available only to the wealthy or a museum. The placement of decorative works in public spaces challenges the very definition of what art is, removing it from an elitist context to a more humane, egalitarian view. She has stated “Decoration abolishes hierarchical distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. It is not elitist and does not condescend: it will expand our notion of ‘the artist’ and the ‘art audience.’”
Joyce Kozloff has won numerous awards and honors, including National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1977 and 1985, a Rockefeller Foundation Grant in 1992 and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2004. Her traveling retrospective Joyce Kozloff: Visionary Ornament opened at Boston University in 1986. Kozloff’s works are included in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art and Yale University Art Museum. She has been an advisor to the Vermont College of Norwich University in Montpelier, Vermont since 1994 and on the Board of Governors at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine since 1998.
Joyce Kozloff and Max Kozloff live and work in New York City.
Broude, Norma, Mary D. Garrard, and Judith K. Brodsky. The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and Impact. New York: 1994.
A major anthology of feminist art and politics during the 1970s, which addresses the specific passions, concerns and priorities of this generation of women artists.
Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. New York: 1990.
A classic work on the woman artist in the history of Western art. Chadwick observes that Kozloff’s public art represents the natural growth of her earlier interest in ornament, historical sources and the cultural content of patterning.
Smith, Beryl, Joan Arbeiter, and Sally Shearer Swenson. Lives and Works, Talks with Women Artists, vol. 2. Lanham, MD and London: 1996.
Kozloff, Joyce. Patterns of Desire. New York: 1990.
Kozloff began to look at erotic art historically and cross-culturally. Her witty, inventive series of “pornament” watercolors are based on pornographic images redrawn as ornamental art. Kozloff’s sensual satire and erotic fantasy draw on a plethora of sources, from Paleolithic cave painting to The Book of Kells, Japanese erotica, Persian miniatures, Pompeian frescoes, Picasso and Godzilla.
Roth, Moira. Crossed Purposes: Joyce & Max Kozloff. Youngstown, OH: The Butler Institute of American Art: 1998.
The catalog includes an interview in three parts with Joyce and Max Kozloff by Moira Roth, October 18–19, 1997. This is a splendid source for learning about Kozloff’s extensive travels, maps done in fresco and political works such as Mekong and memory (1996), a lush paper map of southeast Asia’s largest river, which is a shrine dedicated to the innocent, idyllic place Hanoi was before the apocalypse.
Johnston, Patricia A., Hayden Herrera and Thalia Gouma-Peterson. Joyce Kozloff: Visionary Ornament. Boston: 1985.
This comprehensive catalog is the best source for understanding Kozloff’s architectural installations and contains numerous illustrations and photographs.
Perreault, John. Patterning Painting: Tina Girouard, Valerie Jaudon, Joyce Kozloff, Robert Kushner, Kim MacConnel, Tony Robbin, Miriam Schapiro, Robert Zakanitch: [expositión] Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles/Paleis voor Schone Kunsten te Brussel, 19/1–18/2/1979. Brussels: Palais des Beaux-Arts: 1979. Introduction and essay in English, French and Flemish.
Goldberg, Vicki. “Working Notes: An Interview with Joyce and Max Kozloff.” Art Journal, Fall 2000, Vol. 59, Issue 3.
Articles, Essays and Reviews
Gouma-Peterson, Thalia. “Joyce Kozloff: Visionary Ornament.” Ceramics Monthly 35 (November 1987).
Koplos, Janet. “Revisiting the Age of Discovery.” Art in America (July 1999).
Perreault, John. “Issues in Pattern Painting.” Artforum 16 (November 1977).
Phelan, Peggy. “Crimes of Passion.” Artforum 28, May 1990.
Rickey, Carrie. “Decoration, Ornament, Pattern and Utility: Four Tendencies in Search of a Movement.” Flash Art 90–91 (June–July 1979). In English and Italian.
Smith, Roberta. “Art in Review: Joyce Kozloff.” The New York Times, March 19, 1999.
Tenaglia, Susan. “Magical American Fresco.” World & I 16/2 (February 2001).
Webster, Sally. “Pattern and Decoration in the Public Eye.” Art in America 75/2 (February 1987).