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Transformation: The Art of Joan Brown

September 26, 1998 through January 17, 1999


In an unusual two-museum collaboration, Transformation: The Art of Joan Brown, the first major retrospective of work by the late California painter Joan Brown (1938 - 1990) will open September 26, 1998. It will be on view through January 17, 1999.

This large retrospective of 126 works is being organized and presented simultaneously by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California. The museums are seven miles apart and there will be a discounted ticket price for those who want to see both parts of the show, and some reciprocal membership privileges during the run. Two distinguished curators -- Dr. Jacquelynn Baas, Director of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and Karen Tsujimoto, Senior Curator of Art at the Oakland Museum of California, have created a broad and revealing retrospective. Believing she is an underrecognized artist, they are eager to provide the public with the best opportunity to date to see work spanning her entire career.

Transformation: The Art of Joan Brown will allow visitors to see a much more comprehensive range of Brown's work than allowable in one venue. Each museum will focus on a different theme emerging from her lifetime of creativity. The Oakland Museum of California, a multidisciplinary museum of California art, environment and history, will focus on the theme of "The Self" and will include self-portraits, paintings of Brown's intimate family life, and later spiritual images. The UC Berkeley Art Museum will focus on Brown's's reflections on and relationships with "The World" -- paintings reflecting her relationship to the world-at-iarge. Included in this exhibition will be pivotal paintings of friends, models and animals, as well as works containing her pithy and witty observations on romance, dancing, swimming, and toward the end of her life, metaphysics.

Brown, a gifted teacher who served on the University of California, Berkeley faculty from 1974 to 1990, was one of the most individualistic and dynamic artists to emerge from the San Francisco Bay Area. A complex woman with a bright, quick mind, high energy and singular determination, she burst on the national scene when still very young. Growing up in San Francisco, a few blocks from San Francisco Bay (not surprisingly, water and cityscapes figure prominently in her work), she enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) directly out of high school without a real sense of what she wanted to do. Within a year, however, she knew she wanted to be: an artist.

One of her earliest teachers and mentors, Elmer Bischoff, became a role model for what it meant to be a painter and teacher. During the late 1950s and early 1960s she lived in a highly charged atmosphere of art and artists. It's unlikely that Joan Brown's work would have developed as it did outside of California. The creative milieu of the San Francisco Art Institute was particularly intense between the mid-'40s and the '60s, giving rise to the West Coast school of abstract expressionism, the Bay Area figurative painting movement, Beat culture, and funk art. She was part of a group of artists who included Frank Lobdell, Jay De Fee, Wally Hedrick, Sonia Getchoff, Peter Voulkos, David Park and many others. This community of artists helped to establish California as a major creative center in the United States.

Exhibition co-curator Karen Tsujimoto of the Oakland Museum of California calls Brown's painting "a visual diary." Brown's predilection for recording her daily experiences and her relationships in her work was sharply out of step with more mainstream art of the late '60s and '70s such as minimalism and conceptual art, and her reputation was basically a quiet, underground one. An important but little-recognized fact is that Brown's work anticipates the emergence of feminist art of the seventies.

As a female.artist who actively participated in the male-dominated era of the fifties and sixties and then refocused toward more diaristic content that emphasized her womanhood and search for personal growth, Brown can be seen as a role model and pioneer for the subsequent generation of women artists who stepped forward with the rise of the women's movement. She had an unflinching willingness to use personal material as subject matter in her art, and her paintings are compellingly personal. Family, friends, pets, views of her kitchen, her love of swimming, and more symbolically, her sense of identity as a woman and her spiritual quest, all figure in her paintings; and so the viewer comes to understand the artist with a certain intimacy out of her most personal concerns.

Perhaps, as critics have written since her death, Brown suffered from being too closely identified with a regionalist school, which obscured the far broader significance of her art. The fact that she was a woman artist has also contributed to her neglect. The Joan Brown retrospective will be part of the UC Berkeley Art Museum's mission to present the best of American art and of the Oakland Museum of California's continuing commitment to document and exhibit the work of California's significant artists.

The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, and the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum is at 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. During the run of the show, one discounted ticket admits the holder to both museums. The fixed price of this special ticket is $9 general, $7 seniors and students. Each museum will also sell regular admission that does not include entrance to both museums. Members of either museum are admitted free to both venues during Transformation. The Oakland Museum is free from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday nights. The UC Berkeley Art Museum is free on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12 noon, and 5 to 9 p.m. Hours for the UC Berkeley Art Museum are Wednesday through Sunday. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Thursday extended hours to 9 p.m. Hours for the Oakland Museum of California are Wednesday through Saturday,10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; Friday extended hours to 9 p.m.

A seminal catalogue on Joan Brown, the first comprehensive treatment of her life's work, published by the museums with the University of California Press, features essays by Karen Tsujimoto and Jacquelynn Baas which focus on various aspects of Joan Brown's art and life. It is the first publication to offer a detailed chronology of the artist's development and interpretive analyses of her art. A foreword by Brenda Richardson completes the 320-page book, which is richly illustrated with 108 color and 143 black-and-white images.

From top to bottom: Model with Manuel's Sculpture, 1961, oil on canvas, two parts: 72 3/4 x 36 and 72 x 120 inches, photo: M. Lee Fatherree, Oakland Museum of California, gift of Concours d'Antiques Art Guild and Oakland Museum Association; Dog & Chair in Environment, 1961, oil on canvas, University of California Berkeley Art Museum, gift of Lewis Zachary Cohen, photo: Ben Blackwell; The Mermaid, 1970, oil enamel, glitter and sequins on masonite, photo: Ben Blackwell, University of California Berkeley Art Museum, bequest of Earl David Peugh, III; The Bride, oil, oil enamel and glitter on canvas, photo: Ben Blackwell, University of California Berkeley Art Museum, bequest of Earl David Peugh, III

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