The Alan Gallery (January 4-23,
From the brochure essay by
[Brainard's work forms] a glittering microcosm,
ordered, very formal, very dramatic, and beautiful, and he proves
that beauty is really interesting after all.
The Alan Gallery (April 1967)
From a review by James Schuyler, Art News
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 decorationa pattern that seems to flow
beyond the edges, like wallpaper skipping over a doorwas
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 interestinghe
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
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 ephemeralall 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
From an article by Gerrit Henry, Art News
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
momentspathetic, 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 momentsin 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
embellishedthese 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 humoroften very campy, but sometimes elegant
and austerevirtually the entire history of the medium
. . . very deft and a lot of fun.
The Retrospective at Tibor
de Nagy Gallery nnn(March-April
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
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
From a review by Holland Cotter, New York Times (March
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 arturbane but
homemade, vital but oddly self-effacing, with a fastidious eye
to texture and detailcohere 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
From the exhibition catalog essay by Carter
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
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.
[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
Jonathan Galassi, Poetry
A completely original book.
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