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NANCY IDEAS: JOE BRAINARD IN RETROSPECT

In 1979, JOE BRAINARD walked away from the art world and all but gave up making new work. Twenty-two years later, and seven years after his death, the full output of the poet and artist can be seen for the first time, as “Joe Brainard: A Retrospective,” opens this month at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum. On the occasion, novelist and poet BRAD GOOCH recalls a figure we have finally caught up with.

Joe Brainard wasn’t a legend in his own time. Well, actually, he started out as one. His send-ups of Ernie Bushmiller’s comic-strip goof-fatale Nancy, the frizzy-haired figure sticking her menacing smiley face into such masterpieces as Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and de Kooning’s Woman I, were collaged on the front and back covers of Art News Annual in 1968. He was then twenty-six: tall, wiry, curly-headed, peering through oversize nerdy glasses, wearing black Keds.

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