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Joe Brainard

A Retrospective

February 7, 2001 - May 27, 2001

Joe Brainard: Blossom, 1977 (detail); mixed-media collage; 32 x 511/2 in.; Collection of Amerada Hess Corporation.

The first museum retrospective exhibition of Joe Brainard (1942 – 1994), currently on view in Gallery 2, presents a wide selection from Brainard's prolific lifework, including approximately 150 collages, assemblages, paintings, drawings, and book covers. Brainard's art is characterized by humor and exuberant color, and by eclectic combinations of media and subject matter. Joe Brainard: A Retrospective reveals Brainard's creative genius and aims to raise the profile of this under-appreciated but nonetheless intriguing and important late-twentieth-century American artist.

"Brainard's art was a personal expression of the delight he took in the ordinary things around him," says Senior Curator Constance Lewallen. "Although during his prime he was widely exhibited and written about, as often as not he gave away his work as a gesture of friendship. Today's audience appreciates much of what characterizes Brainard's work—beauty, delicacy, intimacy, humor—while during the 1960s and 1970s, when Brainard was most active, these qualities kept him somewhat to the side of avant-garde art concerns.

It has been a privilege to work with Brainard's family, friends, and close associates to organize an exhibition that delves deeply into Brainard's extraordinary creativity, and to help his work achieve the recognition it deserves."

Brainard was born in Arkansas in 1942 and grew up in Oklahoma. His prodigious artistic talent was evident from an early age, and throughout his school years he produced innumerable posters and designs for theatrical sets and costumes. Initially his ambition was to be a fashion designer, and in his final two years of school his talents as a draftsman were sufficient for him to be hired by a local department store to draw fashion advertisements. His ambition grew on a par with his talent, and at the end of his senior year Brainard applied for and won a national art scholarship to the Dayton Art Institute.

Dayton, however, turned out not to be all Brainard might have hoped for. Just prior to beginning his scholarship, Brainard had visited New York for the first time with high school friend Ron Padgett and was entranced. Padgett himself recalls Brainard's captivation with the contemporary art on display in museums and galleries, the sparkle and glamour of store windows, and the vibrancy of the city streets. Many of these influences are apparent in Brainard's early collages, which have similarities to works by Juan Gris and Kurt Schwitters. Both of these artists were featured in The Museum of Modern Art's 1961 exhibi-tion Art of Assemblage, an important exhibition which had a great impact on Brainard. Lured by such a wealth of high- and low-brow culture, in 1960 Brainard excused himself from Dayton Art Institute and moved to New York to pursue a career as an artist.

From 1965 to 1979 Brainard produced thousands of paintings, assemblages, collages, book covers and illustrations, and one-of-a-kind books. He had several one-person exhibitions in galleries in New York and elsewhere, and during this period was featured in forty-five group shows. Important to his work were his collaborations with poets, and from the 1960s on his closest friend and partner was poet and librettist Kenward Elmslie. Brainard produced many book covers for Elmslie and other New York School poets, including John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Ron Padgett. These are some of the wide range of works on view in this exhibition, which brings to light Brainard's enchanting and typically vibrant work.

Rod Macneil
Contributing Editor