Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Jean Brown papers
Date (inclusive): 1916-1995 (bulk 1958-1985)
318.7 Linear Feet
(320 boxes, 8 rolls, 64 flat file folders)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
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.
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Language: Collection material is in
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
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
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
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
Open for use by qualified researchers.
Jean Brown papers, 1916-1995 (bulk 1958-1985), Getty Research Institute, Research Library,
Accession nos. 890164 and 2016.M.14
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
Series VIII. Additional
correspondence and notes, 1958-1973, undated.
Subjects - Names
Subjects - Topics
Art, Modern -- 20th century
Fluxus (Group of artists)
Art -- Collectors and collecting -- United States -- 20th
Music -- 20th century
Rubber stamp printing
Subjects - Titles
Dada painters and poets : an anthology
Genres and Forms of Material
Motion pictures (information artifacts)
Young, La Monte
Mac Low, Jackson
Vries, Herman de
Clark, Thomas A.
Cavellini, Guglielmo Achille
Campos, Augusto de
Bennett, John M.
Franklin Furnace (Archive)
Finlay, Ian Hamilton
Coum Transmissions (Musical group)
D S H (Dom Sylvester Houédard)
Kitchen Center for Video, Music, Dance, Performance,
Film, and Literature (New York, N.Y.)
Institute for Art and Urban Resources
Hompson, Davi Det
Higgins, E. F.
Random, S. (Steven)
Paik, Nam June
Nations, Opal L.
Olbrich, Jürgen O.
Leo Castelli Gallery