Joe Brainard – the conceptual trailblazer and often overlooked contemporary of Warhol, Lichtenstein, Katz – is having a renaissance right now, thanks in part to LOEWE's creative director Jonathan Anderson.
For the Madrid label’s FW21 men’s runway collection, LOEWE presented A Show in a Book; an original 200-page hardbound volume devoted to Brainard’s graphic works. His prints and jacquards appeared on the collection's garments and accessories while his method and mindset were celebrated in the form of collage.
In his foreword to the book, Anderson outlined the reason for the homage: “I have been drawn to Joe Brainard’s body of work, in particular his collages, and his ability to create things out of the everyday. As an artist, a writer, an illustrator, and a poet, he thought and acted outside of rulebooks and categories.”
Despite having been an extremely prolific artist, with a dozen individual publications, collaborative book projects, and a couple of thousand visual works to his name, Brainard never achieved the notoriety of his more famous friends and collaborators – Andy Warhol, Frank O’Hara, and John Ashbery.
Now, 25 years after he died of AIDS-induced pneumonia, Brainard is being recognized as a visionary forerunner of current dispersed and all-encompassing digital practices. As the poet Nathan Kernan suggests, it is our multimodal online existence that “looks more and more like a Joe Brainard world.”
It was his eclectic approach that made it challenging for critics and curators to properly categorize him. For example, though his treatment of pansies is reminiscent of Warhol’s flower prints, critics have resisted lumping him in with Pop artists. That’s partly because Brainard’s affection for pop culture didn’t chime with the ironic distance to mass media products adopted by heavy-hitters like Warhol and Lichtenstein.
“There is a lightness and an immediacy in his work,” Anderson explains in the foreword to A Show in a Book. “I find acutely apt for this very moment, and indeed any moment.” His approach to everyday visual culture was empathetic rather than detached, but that’s what is drawing new audiences to his gargantuan body of work today.
Similarly, the diversity of his output was regarded as a professional liability in his lifetime. Today, however, his works of collage, comic strip-inspired graphic works, book design, poetry, oil paintings, watercolors, and sculptural assemblage seem to anticipate the ways that we see and create on the internet. Meanwhile, his diverse oeuvre continues to draw comparisons to a surprisingly diverse array of contemporary artists including David Shrigley, Mike Kelley, and Rene Ricard.
A Show in a Book will be distributed by Printed Matter as a stand-alone volume when the collections are commercially available in June 2021, with all proceeds going to Printed Matter and Visual AIDS.