Joe's First Solo Exhibition
The Alan Gallery (January 4-23, 1965)

From the brochure essay by John Ashbery

[Brainard's work forms] a glittering microcosm, ordered, very formal, very dramatic, and beautiful, and he proves that beauty is really interesting after all.

Second Solo Exhibition
The Alan Gallery (April 1967)

From a review by James Schuyler, Art News (April 1967)

The new flower paintings. A painter said, "He just puts down a color, and it's right." The scale may appear to be the size of the stroke (at least in the small ones) but this is not the case. In the all-over ones he calls Gardens (like that on the cover [of this issue]) the scale is the size of a petal, or its color. Or, the scale is the size of a color area, and only sometimes is the fact of the stroke left to see. Nor is scale realistic. A white Oriental poppy is smaller than a morning glory, Johnny-jump-ups are huge because life-size. Parts of this fiction are nearer than others, although distance has been suppressed, or rather, not called into being. The risk of making just decoration—a pattern that seems to flow beyond the edges, like wallpaper skipping over a door—was very great, and to have attempted it and won, to make color and its size securely hold, gives a quiver to the achieved tension. The flowers are pretty and they are not alive; the pure compacted colors interlace and lock livingly together. It is the pictures that are beautiful.

Third Solo Exhibition
Landau-Alan Gallery (March 22-April 17, 1969)

From a review by Peter Schjeldahl, Art International (May 1969)

Joe Brainard's show of flower paintings and collages at the Landau-Alan Gallery, though modest in scope and scale, further confirmed the presence in our midst of a prodigiously talented and original young artist. . . . Like Watteau, Francis Picabia, and Andy Warhol, he engages subject matter in a personal, anti-conventional way so pervasive as to render sterile any strictly formal analysis of his work. What makes an artist of this kind so difficult is precisely what makes him so interesting—he insults or evades every habitual approach to art. He will be unique or nothing. . . . In line with Yeats' dictum about poetry, these works have been labored to remove all trace of the artist's exertion. Their real identity comes as something of a shock, like a snowball with a rock inside it. It is rather unsettling to confront a perfect little watercolor of some pansies with the consciousness that no "appropriate response" is possible. Like Nature herself, it challenges us to account for its complete, unambiguous beauty, and of course we can't.

From a review by John Ashbery, Art News (May 1969)

Joe Brainard reminds one of Proust's gallant remark to the painter Madeleine Lemaire that she had created more roses than anyone after God. Brainard gives both a run for their money, if not with roses then with pansies, and with tulips and poppies tied for second place, row upon row of garden-variety flowers painted with meticulous deftness. . . . The effect is always of profusion and of strangeness beyond that. What is a flower, one begins to wonder? A beautiful, living thing that at first seems to promise meaning . . . but remains meaningless. . . . Here they merely continue, each as beautiful as the others, but only beautiful, with nothing behind it, and yet . . . The unfinished clause secretly binds the work together and raises it above a high level of provocation.

Exhibition at Fischbach Gallery (May 1-22, 1971)

From a review by Carter Ratcliff, Art International (October 1971)

In his most recent show [Brainard] painted objects, then cut the paintings to make them more object-like. This interplay between the natural and the artificial, between what is displayed (an object) and what displays (also an object, the same one) breaks down the ordinary notions of composition and coherence in favor of an illuminated concentration. Nature and décor, nature and civilization, the timeless and that which bears precise indications of its origin in time, the a priori and the ephemeral—all these in their specificity stand for each other. Brainard is willing to make the point (usually shied away from so desperately) that for consciousness the world is décor.

Second Show at Fischbach (April 1-20, 1972)

From an article by Gerrit Henry, Art News (April 1972)

Brainard's art . . . is one of always funny, and sometimes beautiful, realism, the humor and beauty of which are aided and abetted by the silly, lovely, commonplace and everyday objects that comprise it. His latest show is (intentionally, one suspects) "minor," but what emerges as a result of its scattered thrust is a sense of the exhibition as some kind of rare, major potpourri. Brainard is approaching 30, but his art has not as yet hardened (softened is, perhaps, a better word) into a form or a formula. It is, more than any noble fixation, a markedly fluid, meaningful style, a refreshingly old way of perceiving new things which, by its artful interweaving of skill with force of personality, is continually in the process of clearly revamping itself. The artist is, as has been said, a "creative" and diverse talent, and one of the triumphs of his new show is the unusual but undeniable equation it makes between quantity and quality. Where we have come to expect many contemporary artists to turn out series of singular last words on the dismayingly twin subjects of art and art history, we are slowly but surely coming to see Joe Brainard's career as a continuing and sincerely comic dialogue between art and artist, an always-promising work-in-progress that is, at any recent point, all there.

Show of Oil Paintings at Fischbach (April 6-25, 1974)

From a review by Peter Frank, Art in America (May-June 1974)

[These works are] in a far more painterly manner, one that situates itself in the Realist tradition. . . . Brainard's plunge into realism is a deft one: the new paintings are as intimate as his former work and as visually skilled and expressive.

From an unsigned review in New York

[These oil paintings are] brilliant, unselfconscious, charming.

The Show of 1,500 Small Works
Fischbach Gallery (December 1975-January 1976)

From a review by John Russell, New York Times (January 4, 1976)

Brainard is a born diarist. No moment of the day is dead to him. With his nimble fingers and even nimbler wit, he has cobbled up an untold number (3000, some say) of tiny works of art for his new show. They include records of specific moments—pathetic, hilarious, ironical-still life, manipulations of familiar objects (books of matches, luggage labels, pieces of string), one-line jokes written out in a misleadingly childish hand, and annotated records of specific moments—in his own life. Most of the works are no bigger than a postcard, and the general level inevitably goes up and down; but the ups are way up, and we sense throughout the show an ongoing energy which insists that images are there to tease, provoke, and give pleasure. In Mr. Brainard's hands they do all three of these things. This is the wittiest show of the winter.

From a review by Hilton Kramer, New York Times (December 20, 1975)

The tiny collage, the miniature watercolor, the cameo sketch and the minuscule object, slightly altered and hilariously embellished—these are Mr. Brainard's favored means for a minor but very amusing and endlessly fascinating art. He makes up in copiousness what he lacks in scale. . . . What are best here are the collages, which recapitulate with a delightful humor—often very campy, but sometimes elegant and austere—virtually the entire history of the medium . . . very deft and a lot of fun.

The Retrospective at Tibor de Nagy Gallery nnn(March-April 1997)

From a review by Peter Schjeldahl, Village Voice (April 22, 1997)

Now here is a pocket Brainard retrospective, full of things to just about buckle my knees with recollected and renewed pleasure. There are racy early Popish paintings and collages, riotous pseudoreligious assemblages (such as an evilly green one keyed to ranked bottles of Prell shampoo), exquisite oil studies like rebirths of Berthe Morisot, and breathtakingly lovely painted and cutout paper gardens of ordinary flowers, with a modestly magnificent effect like Beethoven's Ode to Joy played on toy pianos. . . . Among other things, Joe nailed, one after another, every major variety of aesthetic kick proper to the art of collage past, present, and humanly possible.

From the exhibition catalog essay by Robert Rosenblum (1997)

In this ambience of gentle affection, even the crassest stuff of Americana refuses to look vulgar when transported to Brainard-land. In this artist's hands, even a Holiday Inn sign, a few boxes of Tide, or a comic-strip character like Nancy looks like something from an imaginary, pre-industrial world, viewed with the enchanted love of a remembered first encounter. . . . But if his art can look backwards, sideways, and forwards, it refuses to join the march of history, staking out its own magical territory.

From a review by Holland Cotter, New York Times (March 28, 1997)

The show, shrewdly edited to give a sense of this artist's weight and range, is pure delight. . . . Brainard characteristically worked in several styles at once. And it is only with careful looking that one discovers what makes his art—urbane but homemade, vital but oddly self-effacing, with a fastidious eye to texture and detail—cohere as a body of work. . . .Brainard, like [Frank] O'Hara, was ahead of his time. . . . Metaphor and sensuality are the hallmarks of this beautiful show.

2001 Traveling Retrospective
Organized by Constance M. Lewallen, Berkeley Art Museum

From the exhibition catalog essay by Carter Ratcliff

Brainard dazzled by taking art back to those moments, early in life, when the very idea of an image becomes intelligible and almost unbearably rich with meaning.

From the cover article by Brad Gooch, Artforum (February 2001)

What [Joe] was up to, artwise, was keeping his look fresh, his vision uncorrected. If you walk briskly through a room of Vermeers in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam without even staring at them, you still catch flashes of luminescence peripherally. A walk through a roomful of Brainards has the same allover halo effect. . . . I remember endless conversations among us young poets about what Brainard was up to. . . . Especially as his hair turned silver gray, there were all sorts of suspicions that his early retirement was somehow touched by saintliness. That he was teaching us a lesson. That he was a bodhisattva, not just burned-out. It was just such an unusual thing to do. Behind this talk was the felt conviction that Brainard as an artist was going to add up to more than the sum of the hundreds of thousands of pieces he produced before he quit the business. "Joe Brainard: A Retrospective" proves that our hunch was indubitably true.

Comments on the Book I Remember by Joe Brainard

I Remember is a masterpiece. One by one, the so-called important books of our time will be forgotten, but Joe Brainard's modest little gem will endure. In simple, forthright, declarative sentences, he charts the map of the human soul and permanently alters the way we look at the world. I Remember is both uproariously funny and deeply moving. It is also one of the few totally original books I have ever read.
   — Paul Auster

[Brainard's] memories of growing up in the '40s and '50s have universal appeal. He catalogues his past in terms of fashion and fads, public events and private fantasies, with such honesty and accuracy and in such abundance, that sooner or later, his history coincides with ours, and we are hooked.
   — Michael Lally, Village Voice

I Remember limns, suggestively, and with tremendous economy and flexibility the outlines of one individual's very individual mind.
   — Jonathan Galassi, Poetry

A completely original book.
   — Edmund White

Brainard takes one of the oldest and most familiar of poetic devices, the list (of the Bible, of Whitman, of the Surrealists' attempt to make it new), and couples it with a mania for trivia more personal than any craze could be, and it works.
   — Washington Post Book Revie