San Jose Museum of Art
Joan Brown


Early Success


At the young age of twenty-two, Brown began to receive national acclaim for her work, which, at the time, reflected the dueling influences of Abstract Expressionism and Figuration that she had absorbed as a student at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). The year 1960 proved to be pivotal for Brown as she began to show her work at the Staempfli Gallery in New York and was the youngest artist featured in Young America 1960 (Thirty American Painters Under Thirty-Six) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. This level of success was rare for any young artist and extraordinary for a woman. That year, her work was also included in the traveling exhibition Women in American Art and Look magazine featured her in a spread about the exhibition with other notable female artists such as Lee Bontecou, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, and Georgia O'Keeffe. These women (and others from the 1950s and 1960s) were treated as disciples, followers, or even at times, imitators, of the styles started by men and, for many critics, their success was tied to this reliance on male ideas. Brown was fearful of this designation and that the label "woman painter" would impact the serious consideration of her work. In an interview with Michael Auping, now chief curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, Brown said:

I didn't want the distinction made – "female painter,'' or "She's good for a girl," all that crap. I still get very pissed off when people make those distinctions. It's such bullshit. At a certain point, you couldn't tell my paintings from any of the guys' of my generation, except that in some cases mine might have been better. In the early days, like all the guys, I just wanted to be a part of something, part of the scene.3

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