February 21, 2016


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Lot 129: Joe Brainard


Lot 129: Joe Brainard

Christ on Ham & Eggs

Mixed-media collage with assemblage in artist's frame
Signed and dated verso
Overall: 10.125" x 8.125"
Together with ephemera
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Exhibited: "Joe Brainard," Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, September 7-November 2, 1980
Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000
Price Realized: $2,000
Inventory Id: 21129

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An artist, writer, and designer of theater sets and costumes, Joe Brainard (1942–1994) was one of the most prolific and protean figures in the American art and literary world of the 1960s and 1970s. He worked in a range of artistic mediums that included oil painting and drawing, but is best known for his collage and assemblage pieces. Brainard published more than a dozen books, among them the minor classic "I Remember" (1970), a lyrical prose-poem memoir. In an artistic era dominated by the brawny heroics of Abstract Expressionism and the cool distance of Pop art, Brainard was notable for the honesty, clarity, sincerity, and wry openhandedness of his creations. "Brainard is one of those figures–in his art, his writing, and, one gathers, his person–whose primary genius was to give long-sought relief from overbearing works of art, pieces of writing, and people," wrote the poet and critic Dan Chiasson. "For their friendliness, their air of openness, their distaste for guile and pretense, Brainard's productions have a soothing quality."

Brainard was born in Arkansas and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a precocious high schooler, along with poets Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett, Brainard edited the admired art and literary magazine White Dove Review. He won a full scholarship to the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio, but dropped out to move to New York at age 19. After an impoverished year of self-discovery in Boston, he returned to Manhattan where he quickly joined a prodigious creative circle that included the painters Alex Katz, Larry Rivers, and Jasper Johns and the urbane New York School poets Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and Berrigan and Padgett as well.

Brainard developed an odd and appealing personal iconography that ranged from images of the Madonna and Child to bits of housewares packaging; renderings of fried eggs to, very frequently, the character Nancy from Ernie Bushmiller's classic comic strip of the same name. He collaborated often with his poet friends on assemblages and collages–mediums that, like poetry, consist of allusions, affinities, references, and connections. Brainard's literary masterwork, "I Remember," is itself a sort of collage, made of scraps of memory such as those in this excerpt:

I remember planning to tear page 48 out of every book I read from the Boston Public Library, but soon losing interest.

I remember Bickford's.

I remember the day Marilyn Monroe died.

I remember the first time I met Frank O'Hara. He was walking down Second Avenue. It was a cool early Spring evening but he was wearing only a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And blue jeans. And moccasins. I remember that he seemed very sissy to me. Very theatrical. Decadent. I remember that I liked him instantly.

I remember a red car coat.

Brainard died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1994 at the age of 52. He had stopped exhibiting new work in his final years. His last gallery show during his lifetime took place in 1978 and was followed by two retrospectives: the first at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 1980 and a second in 1987 at the University of California, San Diego–a fact that the critic Bruce Hainley finds significant. "How refreshing that an artist who spent most of his life in New York had retrospectives in Southern California. It is helpful to think about Brainard's work–its humour, it directness–in terms of some Los Angeles artists," he wrote in Frieze magazine. "His little books of drawings and writings can be placed snugly next to Edward Ruscha's brilliant photographic booklets: both reveal the genius of fearlessly pursuing a banal idea with single-minded thoroughness."

Chiasson, Dan. "Joe Brainard's Odes to the Survivable Past." New Yorker, 20 June 2012: n. pag. Web. 09 Jan. 2016. Hainley, Bruce. "I Remember." Frieze Magazine RSS. Frieze, 28 May 1996. Web. 08 Jan. 2016. Brainard, Joe. I Remember. New York City: Granary, 2001. Print. Ferguson, Russell, ed. In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O'Hara and American Art. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1999. Print.