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Finding aid for the Jean Brown papers, 1916-1995 (bulk 1958-1985)
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Materials
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Jean Brown papers
    Date (inclusive): 1916-1995 (bulk 1958-1985)
    Number: 890164
    Creator/Collector: Brown, Jean, 1911
    Physical Description: 318.7 linear feet (320 boxes, 8 rolls, 64 flat file folders)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: An extensive study collection of avant-garde materials amassed by librarian and art collector, Jean Brown. Her collection documents the Dada and Surrealist art movements and their offshoots, especially Fluxus, mail art, and concrete poetry. Materials include letters, printed matter and ephemera, clippings, nearly 500 art objects, sound recordings, motion pictures, and video recordings.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog records for this collection: 890164  and 2016.M.14 . Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Jean Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York, 20 December 1911. Her father, Irving Levy, was a rare book dealer. During the Depression Brown worked in a library in Springfield, Massachusetts where she was trained in library cataloging.
    Brown amassed a significant and rich body of materials by many of the most influential and challenging artists of the 20th century. The initial inspiration for the collection was provided by Dada painters and poets: an anthology, 1951, edited by Robert Motherwell. In the 1960s Brown and her husband, Leonard traveled to Europe frequently to acquire Dada and Surrealist art works, books, pamphlets and papers, many documented in Motherwell's anthology.
    When Leonard died in 1971, Brown moved into the Shaker seed house in Tyringham, Massachusetts. From this point on her collection grew rapidly as Brown acquired materials from those movements, especially Fluxus, mail art and concrete poetry, which grew out of Dada and Surrealism. Many of these artists worked on the fringes of the established museum and gallery system and showed their work in alternative spaces or created alternative distribution systems.
    Brown's primary goal was to assemble a study collection. She acquired comprehensively on the topics mentioned above. This included standing orders with some small presses to acquire all of their output. Her early appreciation of books lead naturally to an interest in artists' books. If an artist's work interested her she asked the artist to create a book for her archive. In the early 1970s, her son Jon sent notices about the archive to every art history graduate program. Scholars and graduate students with valid research interests were invited to use the collection.
    Brown maintained close friendships with many of the artists whose work she collected, including George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Ken Friedman, Peter Frank, Mirella Bentivoglio, and Rimma and Valery Gerlovin, to name a few. They visited frequently and created works for the archive in her upstairs workroom, a room designed by Maciunas. Brown became a part of the international mail art network. Every major mail artist sent her examples of their work. Eventually, she found it impossible to keep up with the quantity of mail she was receiving and by the mid-1980s had stopped answering their letters. Brown died May 1, 1994 in Tyringham.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Jean Brown papers, 1916-1995 (bulk 1958-1985), Getty Research Institute, Research Library, Accession nos. 890164 and 2016.M.14

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired from Jean Brown in 1988 with the exception of Series VIII. Additional correspondence and notes acquired from the family of Jean Brown in 2016.

    Processing History

    A number of people processed and cataloged parts of the Jean Brown papers from 1988-2002. Eric Vos, a researcher and consultant during periods of 1988, 1989 and 1990, processed and cataloged sections of the collection (see research file for his report and checklist). Jon Hendricks, consultant, visited in 1989 August and helped Vos identify Fluxus materials. Intern Albert DePetrillo organized a portion of the correspondence in 1990 February.
    Some of the objects were damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. This incident prompted a team of collection maintenance personnel - Rick Zwies, John Pearson, Jessica Holada - to measure and order boxes for each object and write conservation notes. Most of this work was done in 1995-1996, but continued until 1997. Bennington intern Mikel Wadewitz and Pearson photographed about 70% of the objects.
    From April 1996 to May 1997, Lynda Bunting reorganized Vos's series arrangements, sorted and integrated unprocessed materials from ca. 25 boxes, and wrote the bulk of this finding aid. Much of the Dada and Surrealist ephemera had been separated from the archive in 1985-1986. Bunting collected these materials, along with some others that had been separated, and reintegrated them into the collection. In addition, she transferred to the library 181 sound recordings and ca. 950 books, serials, and prints. Over 320 book sales catalogs were deaccessioned. The art objects were reorganized into a rough alphabetical order, thus rendering Vos' numbering system obsolete.
    In Summer 1996, Phil Curtis integrated and organized materials within Series II. and Series III. From September-December 1996, Kirsten Hammer organized most of Series III, Series IV., and Series V. Peter Frank was hired as a consultant for four days in February 1997 to make attributions on unidentified items.
    In 2000-2002 Annette Leddy and Julio Vera provided object-level descriptions for the art objects in series VI.
    In 2016, one box of additional correspondence and notes received from the family of Jean Brown was cataloged by Kit Messick and intellectually integrated into the collection as Series VIII.

    Separated Materials

    Published items, including a large number of small press books and journals, were transferred to the general collection of the Getty Research Institute. They can be found by searching the library catalog  for the phrase "Jean Brown Collection."

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Jean Brown papers (1916-1995, bulk 1958-1995) form a significant ensemble of original works and printed matter, and document Brown's intent to build a study collection of avant-garde materials. Dada and Surrealism provided the core inspiration for Brown's acquisitions, as well as for the later artists whose work she collected. In-depth holdings by artists participating in Fluxus, happenings, concrete, sound and visual poetry, new music, mail art, copy art, rubber stamp printing, and video and performance art underscore her range of interests. The collection's broad scope presents a comprehensive account of alternative movements, distribution networks and exhibition venues of the 1960s and 1970s.
    A significant portion of the archive consists of approximately 500 objects created by Fluxus artists and other contemporaries. Another large component documents Brown's interaction with the international network of mail artists and those distributing their work via post. Considerable printed matter records the exhibition and performance activities of artists and the alternative artists' spaces which sponsored them. Also included are bibliographic notes written by Brown, audio cassettes, reel-to-reel tapes, and films. Publications received with the archive have been separated to the Getty Research Library.

    Arrangement note

    The collection is arranged in 8 series: , , , , , Series I. Artists' files, 1916-1995, bulk 1958-1985 Series II. Announcements and invitations, ca. 1960-1989, bulk 1970-1985 Series III. Topical ephemera, 1917-1989, bulk 1965-1989 Series IV. Miscellaneous clippings, 1957-1987, bulk 1980-1985 Series V. Notes and personal, 1993, undated Series VI. Art objects, 1958-1986, undated, Series VII. Audiovisual materials, 1965-1987, undated. Series VIII. Additional correspondence and notes, 1958-1973, undated.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Brown, Jean, 1911

    Subjects - Topics

    Art, Modern--20th century
    Art--Collectors and collecting--United States--20th century
    Concrete poetry
    Copy art
    Fluxus (Group of artists)
    Happening (Art)
    Music--20th century
    Performance art
    Rubber stamp printing
    Small presses
    Sound poetry
    Video art
    Visual poetry

    Subjects - Titles

    Dada painters and poets : an anthology

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Mail art
    Motion pictures (information artifacts)


    Banana, Anna
    Bennett, John M.
    Beuys, Joseph
    Brecht, George
    Cage, John
    Campos, Augusto de
    Cavellini, Guglielmo Achille, 1914-
    Clark, Thomas A.
    Cobbing, Bob, 1920-2002
    Colby, Sas
    Coracle Press
    Corner, Philip
    Coum Transmissions (Musical group)
    D S H, (Dom Sylvester Houédard), 1924-
    Desnos, Robert, 1900-1945
    Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968
    Durland, Steven
    Ernst, Max, 1891-1976
    Etlinger, Amelia
    Filliou, Robert
    Fine, Albert
    Finlay, Ian Hamilton
    Frank, Peter, 1950-
    Franklin Furnace (Archive)
    Friedman, Ken, 1949-
    Furnival, Astrid, 1940-
    Furnival, John, 1933-
    Galántai, György
    Gerlovin, Valeriy
    Gerlovina, Rimma
    Groh, Klaus, 1936-
    Held, John, 1947-
    Hendricks, Geoffrey
    Higgins, Dick, 1938-1998
    Higgins, E. F.
    Hompson, Davi Det, 1939-1996
    Horn, Stu
    Huelsenbeck, Richard, 1892-1974
    Institute for Art and Urban Resources
    Johnson, Ray, 1927-1995
    Karpel, Bernard, 1911-
    Kirkeby, Per
    Kitchen Center for Video, Music, Dance, Performance, Film, and Literature (New York, N.Y.)
    Knowles, Alison
    Knízák, Milan
    Leo Castelli Gallery
    Mac Low, Jackson
    Maciunas, George, 1931-1978
    Man Ray, 1890-1976
    Moorman, Charlotte
    Nannucci, Maurizio, 1939-
    Nations, Opal L.
    Olbrich, Jürgen O.
    Oldenburg, Claes, 1929-
    Ono, Yōko
    Paik, Nam June, 1932-2006
    Patterson, Benjamin
    Phillips, Tom, 1927-
    Pittore, Carlo
    Porter, Bern, 1911-2004
    Random, S. (Steven), 1954-
    Roth, Dieter, 1930-1998
    Saito, Takako, 1929-
    Schwitters, Kurt, 1887-1948
    Sharits, Paul
    Shiomi, Mieko
    Souza, Al, 1944-
    Spoerri, Daniel, 1930-
    Truck, Fred
    Tzara, Tristan, 1896-1963
    Ulrichs, Timm
    Valoch, Jiří
    Vautier, Ben, 1935-
    Vostell, Wolf, 1932-1998
    Vries, Herman de, 1931-
    Watts, Robert, 1923-1988
    Williams, Emmett
    Young, La Monte