“Transformations: The Art of Joan Brown”

UC Berkeley Art Museum / Oakland Museum

For years I’ve had a jones for Joan Brown’s ’70s work. The paintings—with their ham-fisted clarity, their relish for pattern and costume, their goofy hieratics and allegorizations, in those hip housepaint colors—hit me in the solar plexus. Brown (1938–1990), a Beat-era youthquaker with a Look-magazine mention and an Artforum cover to her credit by age twentyfive, had evolved by the early ’70s into a cool, funny, contrarian painter (included in Marcia Tucker’s epochal “‘Bad’ Painting” show at the New Museum in 1978) even as she was veering into the loopier byways of the post-Beatles, as Eastern-spiritualist zeitgeist. Brown’s public-art projects of the ’80s—tiled obelisks, featuring cheerily postmodernist, Sanskrit-Egyptoid motifs—kept her on the road and were the main focus of her energies until she was killed, at age fifty-two, in a construction accident in Puttaparthi, India, while

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