Joe Brainard: The Glory of Cheapo Things

“Untitled (Toothbrushes),” 1973-74, the showstopper in the exhibition “Joe Brainard: A Box of Hearts and Other Works,” at Tibor de Nagy Gallery. Credit… Artworks, the Estate of Joe Brainard, via Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York; Photographs by Alan Wiener.

The creamy sensuality of the toothbrush rack melts your heart. Talk about ennobling humble objects with tender attention. It’s an act of painterly love lavished on a trivial appurtenance. Both lyrical and somehow sad.

“There is something I lack as a painter that de Kooning and Alex Katz have,” he jotted in his diary in 1967. “I wish I had that. I’d tell you what it was except that I don’t know.”

(Joe Brainard)
Alex Katz’s 1966 portrait of Joe Brainard… Credit…Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA at Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

… A reticent Oklahoman who died of AIDS in 1994, at the age of 52…, [Brainard] arrived in Manhattan in 1960, and fell in with what was probably the last group of artists and writers to flourish in the city without any money… [He] sought to take up as little space as possible… specialized in small-scale works… understood how cheapo things (comic books, cigarette packaging, gift tags, restaurant receipts, etc.) can be an expression of authentic emotion… The poet Ron Padgett… recalls a period of artistic crisis in which “he took an increasingly dim view of his work.” Overly conscious of his deficiencies, he signed up for classes at the New York Academy of Art. His remaining years were given over to reading novels.

(Deborah Solomon, “No Ordinary Joe,” New York Times, 11-16-22)

(c) 2023 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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