Joan Brown exhibition opening at George Adams Gallery, NYC, September 12

Joan Brown

September 12 – November 4, 2017

Highlights info row image (212) 564-8480

The George Adams Gallery begins the fall season with an exhibition of paintings by Joan Brown (1938-1990). Covering the years 1961 to 1983, this is a wide-ranging presentation including several large canvases from the 70s and 80s and a series of early enamel on paper paintings. With much of this material having been rarely, if ever, shown, the emphasis is on the lesser-known aspects of Brown’s work.

Joan Brown was an astonishingly prolific artist with a successful career spanning some 30 plus years, up to her tragic death in India in 1990. Both highly individualistic and independent-minded, her work went through a series of dramatic and deeply personal evolutions over the course of her life. As an artist but also as a traveler and student, her views were shaped by an increasingly pluralistic embrace of world cultures and a spirituality which came to pervade her life and work. Though she respected and was inspired by painters such as Goya and Rembrandt, or more modern artists such as Rousseau and Bacon, Brown’s embrace of Eastern philosophies was of equal importance, in particular the teachings of the guru Sathya Sai Baba, of whom she became a devoted follower.

The exhibition begins with a group of enamel on paper paintings made during a trip to Spain in the summer of 1961, what was the first of many trips abroad for Brown. Loose and decadent, they read like a travelogue, documenting the sights in the same brushy strokes of her abstractions at the time. However, unlike those early paintings, these works on paper simply capture the people and places surrounding her, an approach more typical of her mature work. Similarly, her 1963 depiction of her young son in “Noel’s First Christmas” augments the extensive diaries she kept of his early years and is a richly colored and affectionate portrait.

At the core of the exhibition are paintings from 1973 to 1983. All large-scale and executed in enamel on canvas, they show Brown at her most experimental.  While they seem radical in relation to the exuberant patterning and saturated color more often associated with her work, the simplified elements in these paintings are in some ways a distillation of Brown’s practice. Her reductivism, of the figure in particular, relates to her training as a swimmer and the principle of efficient movement being the most ‘basic’. Therefore men and women are reduced down to silhouettes and outlines within spaces merely suggested at by a line or two within vast swaths of color. For Brown, this economy also allowed her to better capture gesture or emotion, what she saw to be at the core of what her paintings expressed. Yet there is also a parallel to her life-long interest in Egyptian art and iconography, where like pictographs, her simplified renderings become an alternative visual language. By eschewing extraneous details, her late paintings turn simplicity into a spiritual gesture.

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Rincon Center Obelisk- Part 1

Throughout her career, Joan Brown’s philosophical and spiritual interests in world cultures and religions grew. Brown’s fascination with ancient civilizations, such as Egypt and Greece, began early in life, when as a child she spent time in the local library reading about Egyptian hieroglyphs, the pyramids, and obelisks. Fueled by her intense studies of spiritual texts and her travels abroad beginning in 1977, Brown began filling her canvases with icons, symbols, mystical emblems, and hieroglyphs. Critics received these newer works, produced in the 1980s, with lukewarm enthusiasm, which only enhanced the artist’s disdain for the art market and what she believed to be the commercialization of the art world.

Joan Brown, Rincon Center obelisk, Rincon Center, San Francisco, CA.





Brown frequently noted that ancient civilizations like Egypt, Mexico, and India revered their artists as important figures in society who were charged with visually communicating and recording beliefs, rituals, and histories, often for the entire populous. When confounded critics wrote disparaging reviews about the strange symbology of her paintings, Brown felt they were missing the point entirely. In the mid 1980s, she began focusing on public art commissions as a way to disengage with the art market while still engaging with a broad audience.


Washington Monument postcards, from Joan Browns studio archive, Joan Brown Estate.

For Brown, the unity of art and life was visible in monumental symbols like the obelisk, an Egyptian construction that represented the power of both gods and pharaohs. Between 1984 and 1990, Brown finished eleven public art commissions, including the Rincon Center obelisk in San Francisco, California.

Joan Brown, detail of Rincon Center obelisk, Rincon Center, San Francisco, CA.

Joan Brown, Rincon Center obelisk, Rincon Center, San Francisco, CA.

Combining the sleek form of the Egyptian obelisk with intricate and colorful mosaic patterns of dolphins and eagles, the Rincon Center obelisk resides in the courtyard of the art deco United States Post Office Rincon Annex building. Brown often patterned her public sculptures after their environments, and, similarly, the dolphins of the Rincon Center obelisk mirror the stone relief dolphin friezes adorning the original art deco building. The Rincon Center Post Office building, which was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood and completed in 1940, also contains a large interior mural in 27 parts completed under the Work Projects Administration (WPA).


Rincon Center, San Francisco, CA.

The dolphins are a direct reference to those painted in a fresco at the Palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. Brown had a large framed photograph of the dolphin mural in her studio at the time of her death. Whether she knew that the dolphin fresco was actually part of a rather imaginative restoration conducted by archaeologist Arthur Evans in the early 1900s, and not original to the structure or Minoan culture, is unknown. In fact, the palace was likely destroyed several times from natural disasters, including from an earthquake and a tsunami resulting from a volcanic eruption. Evans had a team reconstruct much of the palace down to painted murals and frescoes in an attempt to provide visitors with a fuller experience of the once grand labyrinth structure. The dolphin fresco on the wall of the Queen’s Megaron has been noted by historians as clearly not matching the style of the Minoan time period. Regardless of, or perhaps because of, the beautiful but out of place dolphin fresco of Knossos, Brown was interested in the vivid imagery of the swimming blue dolphins with yellow stripes running the length of their bodies and black turned up snouts. Translated in mosaic on the square obelisk, they swim skyward, gracefully and playfully folding their bodies around the edges of the monument.

Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete

Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete



EVENT: Joan Brown talk with Jeff Gunderson, SFMOMA, April 20, 6-7:30pm

Please join us! Jeff Gunderson, archivist and special collections librarian of the San Francisco Art Institute, will give a talk titled “Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff” on April 20th as part of SFMOMA’s Meeting of the Minds series.

MEETING OF THE MINDS: Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff

by Jeff Gunderson

Thursday, April 20, 2017
6–7:30 p.m.

Gina and Stuart Peterson White Box, Floor 4, SFMOMA

From SFMOMA’s website:

Inspired by the exhibition Matisse/Diebenkorn, this series of talks examines artistic influence and aesthetic affinities between pairs of artists. Whether separated by time and place or through close personal relationships, this class highlights the ways in which artists gain inspiration from one another. Curators and scholars share stories, observations, and insights with participants as they draw connections between artworks and invite closer inspection of pieces both familiar and new. Participants will spend time in the galleries as part of this class.

Jeff Gunderson:

Jeff Gunderson has been the Librarian and Archivist at the Anne Bremer Memorial Library of the San Francisco Art Institute since 1981. Gunderson is the author of the title essay for The Moment of Seeing: Minor White and the California School of Fine Arts, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2006) and “A Combination of Accidents:  The San Francisco Art Scene in the 1940s,” published in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:  75 Years of Looking Forward (San Francisco:  SFMMA, 2010) which won the Art Librarian’s Society Worldwide Books Award for 2010. His introductory essay to Black Power/Flower Power: Photographs by Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch was published in September, 2012 by the Pirkle Jones Trust. He is currently working on a collection of essays about open water swimming.

Joan Brown on view in Paris, FINAL DAY

Tajan ArtStudio présents Over the Golden gate 1960-1990, October 20th-28th, 2016

“The Tajan Artstudio Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition presenting the creation from San Francisco and the Bay Area. The exhibition called “Over the Golden gate, 1960-1990″, which features 8 famous painters from this movement, will be on view from October 20th through October 28th. Tajan ArtStudio presents artists from different cultures, often giving them international exposure, even before they are fully appreciated in their own countries. In October, we have decided to host an important exhibition entitled “Over the Golden Gate, 1960-1990” which will honor major artists active during this period in San Francisco and the Bay area. This exhibition will follow the current successful exhibition at Centre Pompidou “The Beat Generation” and will attempt to add a strong visual element to a more conceptual approach. It will emphasize and strengthen in France and Europe the visibility and public awareness of this important American artistic movement. 

We will be presenting in our beautiful Art Nouveau space in the heart of Paris, artists such as Robert Arneson , Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Roy Deforest, Peter Saul , Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley.”

Joan Brown in Rat Bastard Protective Association, the Landing Gallery, LA, through Jan. 7, 2017

curated by Anastasia Aukeman
October 1, 2016 – January 7, 2017
Opening reception and book signing: Saturday, October 1, 5-8pm

Aukeman’s new book, Welcome to Painterland: Bruce Conner and the Rat Bastard Protective Association (University of California Press, 2016), will be available for purchase at the gallery. A signing will take place at the opening reception.

RBPA stamp.jpeg

The Landing is pleased to present The Rat Bastard Protective Association, a group exhibition organized by Dr. Anastasia
Aukeman, author of Welcome to Painterland: Bruce Conner and the Rat Bastard Protective Association (University of California Press, 2016). Through nearly 50 works by 12 artists, the exhibition documents the activities and artistic production of the Rat Bastard Protective Association (RBPA), an inflammatory, close-knit community of artists who lived and worked together in a building they dubbed “Painterland” in the Fillmore neighborhood of mid-century San Francisco. This will be the first exhibition of the RBPA since 1958, when the group led a parade to their exhibition at the Spatsa Gallery on Filbert Street in San Francisco.

Eager to consolidate his inclusion in the artistic community in and around 2322 Fillmore Street, or “Painterland,” when he arrived in San Francisco in September 1957, Bruce Conner placed himself firmly at the center of the cohort by forming the Rat Bastard Protective Association and naming himself its president. Conner derived the name by combining the name of a San Francisco trash collection company, the Scavengers Protective Association, with a slur picked up at the gym. The artists and poets who counted themselves among the Rat Bastards—these included Wallace Berman, Robert Branaman, Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, George Herms, Alvin Light, Michael McClure, Manuel Neri, and Carlos Villa—all exhibited a unique fusion of radicalism, provocation, and community.

The art practices of these Northern California artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s animated broader social and artistic discussions throughout the United States and carved out an important place for West Coast activities for decades to come. The show’s success in demonstrating the importance of this cohort depends on the generosity of the estates and institutions lending works to the exhibition, including: The Conner Family Trust, The Jay DeFeo Foundation, the di Rosa Collection, The estate of Wally Hedrick, the estate of Alvin Light, and the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library.

Dr. Anastasia Aukeman is an art historian, curator (formerly of Artists Space and in the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art), and professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City.

Off-site programming during the exhibition (dates to be announced) will include a program of Beat-Era films: featuring work by Paul Beattie, Robert Branaman, and Lawrence Jordan, as well as a staged reading of Michael McClure’s controversial and Obie award-winning 1965 play, The Beard.

stamp created by Bruce Conner, ca. 1957– 58. © Conner Family Trust / Artists Rights Society


Joan Brown in the exhibition “Berkeley Eye: Perspectives on the Collection” at BAMPFA, through Dec. 11

Two Joan Brown works , “Fur Rat” 1962 and “Dog Watching Moon” 1960, are currently on view at the UC Berkeley Art Museum in the exhibition “Berkeley Eye: Perspectives on the Collection,” through December 11th.

Press Release:



July 13December 11, 2016

The University of California, Berkeley began collecting art shortly after its founding in 1868. Bacon Hall Library and Art Museum opened on campus in 1881 and several of the works donated to the University on this occasion form the historic heart of BAMPFA’s collection, making it one of the oldest art museums on the West Coast. Although a number of significant works were purchased, most have been acquired as gifts from generous donors, including many prominent artists.

Art that activates the senses to stimulate the sixth sense—the mind.

The scope of the collection has always been broad, including works dating back to the Renaissance in the West and—since we began collecting Asian art in 1919—to the Neolithic period in China. Currently, BAMPFA holds approximately 19,000 works of art. Through exhibiting these works, BAMPFA aims to provide new perspectives both onto worlds beyond Berkeley and into the interior worlds of individual viewers.

Berkeley Eye: Perspectives on the Collection focuses on art that activates the senses to stimulate the sixth sense—the mind. The works are presented in eight thematic groupings to be experienced and enjoyed in no particular order, according to the interests of individual viewers: Bible Stories; Nature; Human Nature; Barriers & Walls; Connection & Change; Space, Time, Energy; Black, White, Gray; and Into the Light. The exhibition invites repeat viewings, in part because a number of light-sensitive works will be rotated on November 2.