OCMA presents Southern California premiere of Joan Brown retrospective

Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) announced details of the Southern California presentation of Joan Brown, the most in-depth examination of the iconic Bay Area artist’s oeuvre in 20 years. Born in San Francisco in 1938, artist Joan Brown created colorful, expansive paintings and inventive sculptures inspired by her experiences in the city – where she lived and worked for much of her life – as well as her influential travels. Organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the exhibition will be on view at OCMA from January 26 through June 2.

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Photo by Katherine Du Tiel © Estate of Joan Brown

Joan Brown’s “After the Alcatraz Swim #1,” 1975

“When we opened our new building in 2022, I included Joan Brown’s moving painting The Journey #5 in the inaugural collection exhibition, and I was stunned by the visitors’ enthusiastic response to the work,” said Heidi Zuckerman, CEO and director, Orange County Museum of Art. “I’ve always admired her charisma and perseverance, she was steadfast in her dedication to painting, and I am thrilled to be presenting a larger body of her remarkable work to Southern California. Joan Brown also puts OCMA’s incredible painting in dialogue with other works from her “Journey” series, allowing audiences to join Brown on her spiritual adventure.”

Bringing together more than 40 works, Joan Brown charts the breadth and depth of the artist’s career, once dismissed by critics as unserious but rooted in impassioned curiosity and research. Deeply embedded in the Bay Area art scene, Brown drew inspiration from many sources to create a charmingly offbeat body of work that embraces autobiography, fantasy and whimsy as well as weightier metaphysical themes.

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Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery © Estate of Joan Brown

Joan Brown’s “Harmony,” 1982

Brown earned a BFA and MFA from the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) – later the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) – where she met a key mentor, artist Elmer Bischoff, and began gaining recognition for her paintings. By age 22, Brown had achieved remarkable critical and commercial success. She was included in SFMOMA’s annuals in both 1957 and 1958 and was the youngest artist exhibited as part of Young America 1960 (Thirty American Painters Under Thirty-Six) at the Whitney Museum of American Art. By 1964, her works had been featured on the cover of Artforum and were in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, among others. Brown was the first in her cohort to achieve prominence outside San Francisco, but her fiery disinclination for the commercial side of the art world soon emerged, and it cemented into a lifelong antipathy that would prove decisive at key moments in her career.

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Courtesy of OCMA© Estate of Joan Brown

Joan Brown’s “The Journey #5,” 1976

 Exhibition highlights:

Spanning her days as a student at CSFA in the 1950s to her untimely death in 1990, Joan Brown showcases the artist’s creative evolution. She began her 35-year career with luscious, abstract expressionist canvases and by the mid-1960s moved into graphic representational paintings portraying dogs, cats, swims, cityscapes and her son Noel; self-portraits, and works inspired by her spiritual explorations in the 1980s. Her references ranged from Rembrandt, Velázquez, Goya and Matisse to Egyptian art, Chinese art, Mesoamerican visual culture, Hinduism, her swimming coach and Theosophy. Brown pursued each of these myriad interests with single-minded dedication, typically researching them for years, with a curiosity that intensified over time, as her practice became suffused with spiritual purpose. Commonly characterized as the only female in the second generation of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, Brown was in reality an artist and person who defied easy classification. As she said herself, “I’m not any one thing: I’m not just a teacher, I’m not just a mother, I’m not just a painter, I’m all of these things, plus.”

Joan Brown is curated by Janet Bishop, SFMOMA’s Thomas Weisel Family Chief Curator and Curator Painting and Sculpture, and Nancy Lim, SFMOMA’s associate curator of painting and sculpture. OCMA’s presentation is organized by Courtenay Finn, chief curator, OCMA.

Orange County Museum of Art is located at 3333 Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa. Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Free general admission generously sponsored by Lugano Diamonds.

For more information, visit https://ocma.art.

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