“Not Jean Brown”
A film by Rimma Gerlovina,Valeriy Gerlovin and Mark Bloch
The Emily Harvey Foundation
February 22nd, 2019
by NOAH BECKER , February 2019
Almost thirty five years after it was originally begun in 1985, the Emily Harvey Foundation on Broadway in Soho presented the world premiere of “Not Jean Brown”, a 16-minute portrait of a Massachusetts art collector, Jean Brown (1916-1994) whose vast archives now reside at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.
Introduced by Mark Bloch, one of the film's creators (and a writer for Whitehotmagazine since 2007) , the video project had never been screened for a New York audience despite it being a pet project of Brown, an eccentric art lover who was excited to document her collection. Jean Brown was “the den mother of Fluxus” according to Roberta Smith of The New York Times in her obituary of Brown that appeared May 4, 1994.
The subtitle of the film is “Surrealism, Dada, Fluxus, etc.” and that seemed be a draw for the packed house of appreciative downtown aficionados, archivists and anti-art rebels, many of whom seemed to have known either the filmmakers, Brown or John Cage, who provided the film's soundtrack. The who's who of avant garde artists whose work appeared in the film included Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Surrealist André Masson, Fluxus founder George Maciunas, Joe Jones, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Robert Watts, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Filliou, Geoff Hendricks, Nam June Paik, Christo, George Brecht, Ay-O, visual poet John Furnival, artists bookmaker Dieter Roth, and others.
The “Not Jean Brown” feature was preceded by videos, “The Concepts” a short 2012 video by Rimma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin, who emigrated to the USA in 1980 after being part of an underground movement of artits in Soviet Russia, and “A Visit with Collage Artist John Evans and the Avenue B School of Art” by Bloch, which at 28 minutes was the longest piece on the programme and was shown immediately after Bloch's introduction. The crowd watched attentively as late John Evans (1932-2012) revealed stories of how he created a collage every day until finally achieving some notoreity late in his career.
Bloch explained in his opening remarks that the original footage for “Not Jean Brown” was shot by the Gerlovins on home video equipment at Brown's home in a former Shaker Seed House in Tyringham, a small town near Lee, Massachusetts. Brown enthusiastically encouraged the Russian couple to collaborate with artist, musician and video editor Bloch, who was a friend of both theirs and hers.
At Brown's request, Bloch then contacted John Cage to help create a soundtrack for the work which became "Sink Sound (for Jean Brown)" a "music of contingency" that Bloch recorded at Cage's loft on 6th Avenue in Manhattan one afternoon when Cage's plumbing was acting up. Cage asked Bloch to "come right over" so that the sounds could be used for the Jean Brown project. Bloch conveyed a few amusing anecdotes about working with Cage.
“Not Jean Brown,” has the feeling of a quick, personal portrait of the art collector, a group effort cobbled together by a few dear friends. Fluxus founder George Maciunas, who once lived in the current Emily Harvey Foundation space where this screening occured, moved to Western Massachusetts near Brown a few years before his death in 1978, where he custom-built Brown a beautiful room to display her unique works. Though she kept everything in the dozens of wooden drawers that Maciunas built for her, from collages by Max Ernst and other art superstars to tiny oblique works, sent to her by unknown practitioners of the mail art network, this film mostly features the work of Fluxus artists.
Bloch called Jean Brown, “a gracious hostess and generous supporter of avant garde artists.” The Gerlovins, who were unable to attend the screening due to illness, said about her: “Jean Brown's treasures were collected with an exclusive aesthetic intelligence, and it seems to us, certain ethical perception. Every time we visited her, we found something new in her multitude of drawers and boxes full of unpredicted conceptual curiosities. As soon as she sensed that her effort to share her vision was sincerely appreciated she was very happy because she found the meaning of her life in this sharing.”
Jean Brown was the daughter of a rare-book dealer who went to museums with her father. In 1936, she married Leonard Brown, an insurance agent and they settled in Springfield, Mass., where Brown worked as a librarian until her husband's death in 1971. At that point Robert Motherwell's book, The Dada Painters and Poets, influenced her and she moved shortly thereafter to Tyringham in the Berkshires into a Shaker seed house. After collecting Abstract Expressionist paintings in the '50s she began to acquire Dadaist and Surrealist art, manifestoes and periodicals before her attraction to Fluxus, a relatively new and irreverent art movement at the time. Her home became an important center for artists and scholars.
Roberta Smith also said in her in her obituary of Brown in The New York Times, “In 1985, as the Jean Brown Archive approached 6,000 items, it was bought by the J. Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Santa Monica, Calif. This was among the first collections of 20th-century material acquired by the center.”
The Emily Harvey Foundation has developed an ambitious and comprehensive art and event program that draws on its rich history, art collection, and archive grounded in Fluxus, Concept Art, Mail Art, and Performance Art. Their art program concerns itself with supporting ideas resistant to frameworks of easy legibility. Emily Kreis Harvey (1941-2004) was a New York gallerist known for her support of the international avant-garde community. She divided her time between New York and Venice, Italy, where the foundation operates a residency program and the Archivio Emily Harvey. WM
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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