While Joyce Kozloff committed primarily to public art for a twenty year period during the 1980s and 1990s, decorating communal spaces of train stations, subways, and airports, she was one of the founders of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement and a founding member of the Heresies collective.
Kozloff received her B.F.A. from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1964 and her M.F.A. from Columbia University in 1967. Throughout her artistic career, Kozloff taught in numerous colleges, art schools, and universities in New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine, and Chicago.
Early in her career, she painted works of geometric abstraction. However, in the 1970s, she rejected minimalism and moved towards pattern and decoration, writing that art should be “whimsical, narrative, decorative, lyrical.”
Her work was influenced by the art of non-Western cultures. She used a grid as a structural pattern for different types of compositions. She added bright colors, taken from Arabic and African color schemes, and designs – often diamond shaped – with patterns inspired by tiled walls she saw in Mexico, Spain, Morocco, and Turkey. By the late 1970s, Kozloff abandoned decorative painting because of the negative criticism which described her work as craft and not art.
In 1979, she presented an immersive installation “An Interior Decorated” in Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York City. She filled an entire room with dazzling compositions, colors, and mosaics. She attached ceramic tile pilasters to the walls, installed a raised platform of ceramic tiles in the center of the room, and covered the walls with patterned silk fabric. This was the beginning of her commitment to public art for the next twenty years.
Her numerous public projects in the 1980s included an eighty foot long, curved tiled work at the Harvard Square T Station in Cambridge, Massachusetts; signs and seals at Humboldt-Hospital Rail Station in Buffalo, New York; and a mosaic at the Wilmington, Delaware Train Station. For these works she borrowed designs from local traditions. She used images of ships and gravestones for the Harvard station, and she added nineteenth century decorative touches on the balustrades at the Delaware station. However, she came to feel that her borrowings were becoming formulaic.
By the late 1990s, Kozloff adopted a more personal approach to art and returned to painting where her use of maps and the structure of the grid became a compositional device. Her 2008 “Revolver” is a large circular canvas that can be spun like a pinwheel. Its star charts coalesce into an age-old zodiac of the Archer with his bow and Pegasus, galloping through a blue midnight. But shadows of monsters lurk as if the heavens had merged with hell.
Her “Descartes’ Heart” 2008 is based on the sixteenth century heart-shaped map by Giovanni Cimerlino with the top part based on a map, called “Mechanical Universe” by the seventeenth century Descartes. Her work shows an antique yellow-green map of the world melting into something heart-shaped where fleshy cherubs hover.
Recently she has headed into more conceptual territory. Her acrylic and collage triptych “The Middle East, 3 Views” 2010 juxtaposes maps of the Middle East from different periods in history – the Roman Empire, the Cold War, and the present time – with three galaxies. This could suggest that our endless wars may be but a momentary blip in the great cosmic scheme. Her spectacular canvas “If I Were an Astronomer: Boston” 2015, in which flowerlike shapes figure in a kaleidoscopic composition, was shown in the Whitney Biennial.
Kozloff has received numerous awards including two from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art. She has had group and solo exhibitions in major American cities.
Her work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, New York’s Jewish Museum, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art, National Museum of American Art, and National Museum of Women in the Arts as well as other museums.