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Joe Brainard Archive
MSS 0005  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Publication Rights
  • Related Materials

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Joe Brainard Archive
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0005
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Languages: English
    Physical Description: 32.2 Linear feet (8 archives boxes, 59 art bin items and 88 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1960 - 1992
    Abstract: Materials collected by Robert Butts, consisting primarily of diverse works by and regarding New York artist and writer Joe Brainard (1942-1994). The Joe Brainard Archive consists of numerous examples of Brainard's graphic work dating from 1962 to 1979, most of the books illustrated by Brainard, all of Brainard's manuscripts and published writings, notebooks for Brainard's I Remember series and several other books, Brainard's correspondence with members of the Butts family and correspondence to Brainard from Ned Rorem and Virgil Thomson, checklists of Brainard's artistic production constructed by Robert Butts, and a selection of articles devoted to Brainard's career. In addition to the Brainard materials, the Archive also includes several lithographs by Alex Katz (b. 1927), an oil painting by Tom Clark, and a few ink sketches by poets Ron Padgett and Allen Ginsberg. There are also manuscripts of Ted Berrigan, Tom Clark and Rudy Kikel, in addition to broadsides and books written by New York School writers such as John Ashbery, Edwin Denby, and Kenneth Koch.
    Creator: Brainard, Joe, 1942-1994

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Accession Processed in 1987
    The Joe Brainard Archive contains approximately 300 examples of Brainard's art work as well as book and cover illustrations, manuscripts, and published writings, all dating from ca. 1960 to 1979. Primarily a study collection, the importance of the Joe Brainard Archive is in documenting the wide range, topical as well as technical, of Joe Brainard's artistic production over a twenty year period, ca. 1960-1979. The collection also includes several art works and many books by other notable artists and writers. These materials have been arranged in five series: 1) ARTWORK, 2) MANUSCRIPTS, 3) CORRESPONDENCE, 4) CATALOGS, and 5) BIBLIOGRAPHIES.
    This series comprises 161 pieces of Brainard's graphic art and another 20 pieces, most by Alex Katz. Reflecting the many styles, dimensions, and media with which Brainard experimented during his career, these works include collages (including many of the miniatures Brainard constructed for a show of his in work in 1975), oil and watercolor abstractions, graphite portraits of several well known writers, original cover art for books by Ted Berrigan and John Ashbery, and the original art work for numerous "comic strips" done in collaboration with various writers.
    The MANUSCRIPTS series, arranged chronologically, includes the notebooks and original manuscripts for nine books of writing by Brainard. Several manuscripts by Ted Berrigan, Tom Clark, Philip Gambone, and Rudy Kikel are also included.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series consists primarily of letters from Joe Brainard to Robert Butts. In addition, there are letters from Ned Rorem and Virgil Thomson to Brainard, and letters from Ron Padgett, John Giorno, Larry Fagin, and others to Robert Butts.
    Catalogs for Brainard and Alex Katz exhibitions comprise the CATALOGS series. Also included are numerous reviews of Katz's work.
    Various checklists constructed by Robert Butts and documenting Brainard's production since 1961 are contained in series five, BIBLIOGRAPHIES.
    Books and journals received in the 1984 accession of the Joe Brainard Archive have been separated from the collection and added elsewhere to the library's holdings. To identify and list these items, conduct an author search in ROGER on the term "Butts, Robert, 1952- former owner."
    Accessions Processed in 1991
    The accessions to the Joe Brainard Archive processed in 1991 contain originals of artwork by Joe Brainard for collaborations with Bill Berkson and Kenward Elmslie, and correspondence related to Robert Butts' projects. The materials are arranged in four series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) ARTWORK, 3) MANUSCRIPTS, and 4) PHOTOGRAPHS.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series includes letters from Bill Berkson to Robert Butts concerning publication of his book "Serenade" and correspondence from Joe Brainard. The materials date between 1986 and 1987 and are organized alphabetically by correspondent.
    The ARTWORK series contains original drawings by Joe Brainard for three collaborative works with Bill Berkson and The Baby Book with Kenward Elmslie. Also included are original art by Brainard for miscellaneous poetry readings and flyers. The materials are arranged alphabetically by title.
    The MANUSCRIPTS series contains photocopies of proofs for Bill Berkson's "Cnidus, August 4th."
    An excellent portrait of Joe Brainard by photographer Elizabeth Hathon is located in the PHOTOGRAPHS series. Also included are color transparencies of an eight-piece exhibit entitled "The Gang of Eight."
    Accession Processed in 1993
    The 1993 accession of the Joe Brainard Archive comprises 16 letters and postcards from Joe Brainard to Robert Butts, most of which are birthday or holiday greetings. Also included is a print by Andy Warhol.


    Born in Arkansas in 1942 and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Brainard moved to New York City in 1961. There, he quickly developed friendships with Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Bill Berkson, Barbara Guest, and other participants in the New York School. The large number of collaborative works in the collection, as well as the many illustrations Brainard did for books by others, reflect the sense of community shared by these artists.
    Brainard's achievement, however, is remarkable quite aside from his many associations. Brainard harmonized linguistic and visual materials in extraordinary ways. His graphic work is notably literary, often incorporating words and sentences into non-literary designs. Such qualities prompted Frank O'Hara to say that Brainard's work had "nothing to do with philosophy, it's all art." Both the art work and writing is full of information and frequently takes erotic and semiotic risks. In one of his more scandalous serial works, Brainard subjected Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy to every imaginable erotic and high art situation.
    A prolific artist, Brainard's work has been exhibited extensively in the New York City area since the early 1960s. His first retrospective show, consisting of work from 1960-1970, took place at the Phyllis Kind Gallery in Chicago in 1970. In the mid-1970s he created over 3,000 miniature collages, paintings, and drawings for a major show at the Fischbach Gallery in Manhattan. The materials gathered in the Joe Brainard Archive were first exhibited at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 1980. In 1986 they were again exhibited at UCSD.
    Like Joe Brainard, Alex Katz is a New York City artist. He has given numerous solo shows since the early 1960s, and many of his works have been added to numerous public art collections throughout the country. Unlike Brainard, Katz has created a depthless, planar art which strips the visual image of its narrative, literary aura. The result, as one critic has noted, is an image of a reality that is of no consequence.

    Preferred Citation

    Joe Brainard Archive, MSS 5. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 1984-1993.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Related Materials

    Joe Brainard Letters (MSS 703), Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Berkson, Bill -- Correspondence
    Berrigan, Ted
    Brainard, Joe, 1942-1994 -- Archives
    Brainard, Joe, 1942-1994 -- Correspondence
    Butts, Robert, 1952-
    Clark, Tom, 1941-
    Fagin, Larry -- Correspondence
    Greenwald, Ted -- Correspondence
    Katz, Alex, 1927-
    Kikel, Rudy, 1943-
    Padgett, Ron, 1942- -- Correspondence
    Thomson, Virgil, 1896-1989 -- Correspondence
    American poetry -- 20th century
    Cartoons -- United States -- 20th century
    Collages -- 1960-1969
    Collages -- 1970-1979
    Gay men -- United States -- Biography
    Gay men -- United States -- Poetry
    Gay men in art
    Gays' writings
    Lithographs -- 1960-1969
    Lithographs -- 1970-1979
    Oil paintings -- 1960-1969
    Oil paintings -- 1979-1979
    Photographs -- 1964-1990
    Prose poems, American
    Watercolor drawings -- 1960-1969
    Watercolor drawings -- 1970-1979