Joe Brainard: A Retrospective

September 30–November 25, 2001

P.S.1 presents the first museum retrospective of American artist and writer Joe Brainard (1942–1994), featuring more than 150 collages, assemblages, paintings, drawings, and book covers made in the 1960 and 1970s. Known for his humor and use of exuberant color, Brainard's collages involve everything from comic strip characters to individually painted flowers. Assemblages made from costume jewelry, shampoo bottles, and match books draw attention to the formal qualities of these mass-produced objects while celebrating their popular appeal. Joe Brainard: A Retrospective reveals the creative genius of this important late-twentieth century American artist, and is curated by Constance Lewallen, Senior Curator at The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, where it debuted.

Brainard was born in Arkansas in 1942 and grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where throughout his school years he produced innumerable posters, theater sets, and costumes and drew fashion illustrations for a local department store. Brainard won a scholarship to Dayton Art Institute at the end of his senior year in high school, but after a summer visit to New York City, he withdrew his enrollment and moved to New York. There he met and collaborated with poets such as Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Kenward Elmslie, and became involved in the contemporary art scene. Brainard found early success in his debut solo exhibition in 1965 with assemblages made of logos and sequins, and garish altarpieces made of dolls, boxes, and price tags. A decade later, Brainard's series of works featuring Nancy, Ernie Bushmiller's comic character, elevated an otherwise bland image to the level of icon with works such as If Nancy Was a da Vinci Sketch (1972) and If Nancy Was the Santa Niño de Praga (1972).

While Brainard's early appropriation of commercial language and symbols placed him alongside artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Brainard's prodigious stylistic diversity separated his work from that of other Pop artists. He painted brushy landscapes, nudes, and detailed portraits, and even commented that, "My works never become a Brainard." Brainard ceased making art for public exhibition around 1979, and died of AIDS in 1994. On the occasion of this exhibition, a marathon reading of Brainard's legendary memoir I Remember will be held, featuring readings by eminent New York poets.

 

This exhibition was organized by the University of California Berkeley Art Museums and is supported by an anonymous donor, The Judith Rothschild Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.