Sunday, February 12, 2012

Joe Brainard, “oddball classicist,” artist and memoirist, is back on display and more in print than ever

In April The Library of America is publishing The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, the enigmatic and highly influential artist and writer who dazzled the New York art world of the sixties and seventies with his mastery of a stunning range of media: assemblages, collages, oil paintings, book and magazine covers, set designs, dance costumes, and his path-breaking mixing of poetry and comic strips. His one-of-a-kind autobiographical work I Remember (1970) established him as a distinctive literary voice, a writer of grace, depth, and insightful humor. As Paul Auster writes in his introduction to the volume:
Many people have written their own versions of I Remember since 1975, but no one has come close to duplicating the spark of Brainard’s original, of transcending the purely private and personal into a work that is about everybody—in the same way that all great novels are about everybody. . . Brainard’s achievement is the product of several forces that operate simultaneously throughout the book: the hypnotic power of incantation; the economy of the prose; the author’s courage in revealing things about himself (often sexual) that most of us would be too embarrassed to include; the painter’s eye for detail; the gift for story-telling; the reluctance to judge other people; the sense of inner alertness; the lack of self-pity; the modulations of tone, ranging from blunt assertion to elaborate flights of fancy; and then, most of all (most pleasing of all), the complex musical structure of the book as a whole.
This new volume, edited by Brainard’s longtime friend and biographer Ron Padgett, includes the complete text of I Remember as well as an unprecedented gathering of journals, stories, poems, travel diaries, one-liners, comic strips, and plays—including fourteen previously unpublished works.

By a magical coincidence Brainard would have appreciated, the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College just opened on February 1 the exhibit Joe / Brains / Lamar, “a multi-format program addressing questions of archive, memory, and the genealogy of queer culture.” From February 1 through 26 the exhibit will be showing I Remember: A Film About Joe Brainard by Matt Wolf which features audio recordings of Brainard reading from I Remember as well as recollections by Padgett and rare footage from Brainard’s personal archives. Accompanying the film is a curated display of archival materials on view in the CCS Bard Library.

The Brains component of the exhibit is graphic designer Carl Williamson’s revisiting of the single issue BRAINS: A Journal of Egghead Sexuality, published in 1990 by artists Nayland Blake and D. L. Alvarez to celebrate queer sexuality with “tongue-in-cheek intellectualism.” This runs from March 5 until April 1.

Viewable online from February 1 until April 1 is Project Lamar, a collaborative creation of CCS Bard graduate student Karly Wildenhaus and curator Nathan Lee, which reconfigures the Joe / Brains / Lamar exhibition as an interactive display space aimed at conflating “mediation and the curatorial gesture, archival operations and real-time inquiry, documentation and production.” Visit it to create your own collage of Brainard’s work.

Copies of The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard have just arrived in the LOA warehouse and are now available exclusively from the LOA Web Store for 25% off and free shipping. They will be in bookstores March 29. 

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