Whitehot Magazine

Joe Brainard: A Box of Hearts and Other Works at Tibor De Nagy

Joe Brainard, Untitled (Pansies), ca.1970 . Courtesy of the author.

Joe Brainard: A Box of Hearts and Other Works

Tibor De Nagy

Through December 3, 2022                 

By SUCHI J PRITCHARD, November 2022 

Unfortunately the title of this show conveys most of what I want to say. But I guess I’ll add to the list. I choose the word ‘list’ here more carefully than perhaps my tone conveys. Joe Brainard, I first read, and then encountered their paintings, drawings and collage. The first Brainard poem I was introduced to was I Remember (1970):

I remember eating tunnels and cities out of watermelon.  

I remember one brick wall and three white walls. 

I remember drawing pictures in church on pledge envelopes and programs. 

I remember Christmas cards arriving from people my parents forgot to send Christmas cards to. 

I remember little cream jars in restaurants.  

I remember going grocery shopping with Pat Padgett (Pat Mitchell then) and slipping a steak into her coat pocket when she wasn't looking.   

These excerpted lines walk us through a range of specificities, actions, interpretation, and ambiguities. Through scenarios, naming and placing items around us, we get to enter the poem, as if these very things are indeed around us, somehow the ‘I’ slips into being one’s own.

I knew I wanted to see the Untitled (Pansies) 1970, and 30 Squares 1972, yet I found myself returning to the Untitled (Toothbrushes) 1973-1974. Magnetism seemed to pull me back to these two paintings, Pansies and Toothbrushes; my eye kept going from one to the other. My eye conjuring the artist imagined as if in a state of observation so concentrated such as to render the domestic, the ordinary; as then transcendent, which according to the dictionary lists as: extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience

Joe Brainard, Untitled (Toothbrushes) 1973-74. Courtesy of the author.

Scale is an aspect Brainard plays with both in miniature with their matchstick box size collage and as a maximalist in that collages will then build out into a repeating grid yet each tiny square of the grid has been uniquely painstakingly hand made. The I Remember poem is maximalist in its 150-paragraph length, yet on any-one page one finds a way into belonging in the text.

There are Curio aspects to pieces shown both on walls and in a display case; preciousness tempered with humor. This seems a humor without irony, a humor that wants to set one at ease more than unsettle. 

The Tibor de Nagy show is well timed with two the recent publications. Firstly, the retrospective Monograph Joe Brainard; The Art of the Personal by John Yau (Rizzoli, Oct 11 2022), and Get the Money!: Collected Prose (1961-1983) of Ted Berrigan, edited by Alice Notley, Anselm, and Edmund Berrigan (City Lights). I mention the second book title, as NY School Poet Ted Berrigan is the only collaborator whose hand is included in this show. Brainard was well known for his generosity and collaboration within the NY School, sharing collage and poster design with many associated with the Poetry Project. 

"I collaged from a version of sustainable self for money…" Joe Brainard also had a pop art sensibility as is seen in this Nancy collage & Flag (below).

Joe Brainard and Ted Berrigan, Untitled (Flag), 1962. Courtesy of the author.

Joe Brainard’s view of the city from inside his world allows us entry to a world made precious through observation. WM 

Suchi J Pritchard

West Coast and NYC poet and painter Suchi J Pritchard decided to take the biggest possible bite from the big apple— so is currently an MFA candidate and adjunct professor in Brooklyn. You can find her scribbling & reading at The Cleveland Review of Books, The Brooklyn Review, Ghost City, Prompt Press, Trestle Ties, Killjoy, The Warren, The Brooklyn Rail, and WHITEHOT magazine. Contact her through IG suchi_j_pritchard.

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