"Transformations: The Art of Joan Brown."

By Adams, Brooks | Artforum International, April 1999 | Go to article overview

"Transformations: The Art of Joan Brown."


Adams, Brooks, Artforum International


UC BERKELEY ART MUSEUM/OAKLAND MUSEUM

For years I've had a jones for Joan Brown's '70s work. The paintings - with their ham-fisted clarity, their relish for pattern and costume, their goofy hieratics and allegorizations, in those hip housepaint colors - hit me in the solar plexus. Brown (1938-1990), a Beat-era youthquaker with a Look-magazine mention and an Artforum cover to her credit by age twenty-five, had evolved by the early '70s into a cool, funny, contrarian painter (included in Marcia Tucker's epochal "'Bad' Painting" show at the New Museum in 1978), even as she was veering into the loopier byways of the post-Beatles, Eastern-spiritualist zeitgeist. Brown's public-art projects of the '80s - tiled obelisks, featuring cheerily postmodernist, Sanskrit-Egyptoid motifs - kept her on the road and were the main focus of her energies until she was killed, at age fifty-two, in a construction accident in Puttaparthi, India, while installing an obelisk for her guru.

Despite its occasional howlers and cliches, Brown's autobiographical enterprise in this mammoth retrospective attests to a genuine fierceness of spirit. The exhibition was divided between two museums, with the more substantial, Oakland section subtitled "The Self," and the diffuse display in Berkeley dubbed (rather mystifyingly, given Brown's steadfast solipsism) "The World." The Berkeley sampler, shown in a badly earthquake-damaged building, didn't do the artist any favors, and was suffused with precisely the regionalist, cultish aura from which Brown's reputation still needs to be liberated. The few strong paintings, most notably the fanatically detailed Buffalo in Golden Gate Park, 1968, barely survived the effect of stale festivity conveyed by the hodgepodge installation as a whole.

But in Oakland, viewers were treated to the rough draft of a great retrospective exhibition, which suffered only from the presence of a few clinkers, as well as the absence of several key paintings. Here, the emphasis fell squarely on images of the artist, her immediate family, and her pets. These particular works form the strongest argument for Brown's importance as a painter. The catalogue's insistence on her roles as a folksy humorist, housewife-feminist, mermaid-swimmer, sphinxy spiritualist, or heraldic litigant reads as special pleading, even if she did dramatize these other identities to the hilt in her art.

After a few very early years of murky, impasto work in the manner of Richard Diebenkorn, David Parks, and Elmer Bischoff, Brown moved into more overtly representational domestic scenes. Noel in the Kitchen, ca. 1964, with its great checkerboard floor, depicts the artist's young son hanging around the stove with his pants down in the company of two big dogs. At once Bonnard-ish and Hispano-Flemish Baroque in feeling, it's an early tour de force.

Here, emphasizing Brown's role as mother, was the lovingly collaged scrapbook that the artist made in 1962 for Noel, which actually worked as feminist art. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Transformations: The Art of Joan Brown."
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.