To and From: Davi Det Hompson Correspondents - Jean Brown
JEAN BAKER BROWN
Book/Mail Art Patron - Collection - Archive
Born 1911 in Brooklyn, New York, Brown grew up learning to appreciate art in museums and on the printed page, tutored by her father, Irving Levy, who was a rare book dealer. She briefly attended Columbia University, and married Leonard Brown, an insurance agent, in 1936 and later settled in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Although Jean Brown worked as a librarian, she is best remembreed as the premier patron and collector of Fluxus, a 20th century international avant-garde art movement. As collectors, Jean and her husband Leonard became interested in the work of Dada and Surrealist artists during the 1950s. They could not afford to collect major gallery art works, so they focused on artists' letters, posters, postcards, and artist made books. The book, The Dada Painters and Poets: an Anthology, published in 1951 and edited by the artist, Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), was a source of their interest and inspiration.(J. Paul Getty Archive, Biographical Note, 1997) Jean and Leonard began to travel frequently to Europe to collect these source materials and in the process created a study collection which became one of the most respected and comprehensive archives of Fluxus works. (Kupperschmid, 1979)
After the death of her husband Jean set out to discover the direction Dada and Surrealism had taken in contemporary art. She spent three years attempting to contact the "father" of the Fluxus movement, George Maciunas (1931-1978), through letters and messages until she decided to knock at his Soho studio door. They became close friends and she pursuaded him to move to the small town of New Marlborough, Massachusetts near Tyringham in the Bershires. Brown became Maciunas' biggest patron and a major collector of Fluxus works in the United States. Jean had moved to a Shaker Seed house in Tyringham, Massachusetts and there Maciunas designed an archive in the style of the Shakers on her second floor to house her growing collection. (Kupperschmid, 1979)
The Brown's growing collection reflected the work being created by artists who had sought an alternative to the closed gallery and museum exhibition environment. This included works by artists who conveyed their ideas by means of the mail system. Correspondence Art or Mail Art as the genre became known was open to anyone without juried or curatorial review; anything sent to a specified location was exhibited.
Brown became a part of the correspondence network and often wrote to specific artists in order to purchase examples of their mail-art exchanges. She and Leonard also collected Artists' Books, where the artist is the author and Concrete Poetry, a contemporary descendent of Dada-the art of chance. Jean understood the Concrete Poets' goals as essentially reducing the image to simple forms and the arrangement of words and letters as objects. (Sheridan, 1973)
Her intimate understanding and generosity of spirit made the Brown's home in Tyringham, Massachusetts an important resource for artists and students. Numerous artists including John Lennon (1940-1980), Yoko Ono (b.1933), and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), gathered at her Shaker table to view the examples of other artists' works. The Brown's had always envisioned the archive as a study collection that gave a comprehensive understanding of the works and artists involved in Dada, Fluxus, Mail-Art, and Book Art. She commissioned works by artists she was interested in for the archive, often providing an important source of income and appreciation for artists who existed outside the mainstream of the gallery and museum system. (Kupperschmid, 1979)
During the early 1970s an announcement was sent out on letterhead from "The Tyringham Institute." It outlined the holdings of The Leonard M. Brown Memorial Collection of Dada and Surrealism, as well as The Jean Brown Archive, "a repository of international contemporary art covering Letterisme, Concrete Poetry, and the works of experimental printer Dick Higgins, The Something Else Press." Another section of the archive was devoted to documents, memorabilia, and publications of Fluxus and Happenings. A third was devoted to examples of Pop Art and conceptual Art. Together the collections represent a unique and rare "resource for the study of vanguardism in twentieth century art."
In 1986, the Jean Brown Archive contained approximately 6,000 materials. It was purchased as one of the first collections of 20th century materials by the J.Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Santa Monica, California. Many examples of Davi Det's Artist Books and Mail-Art are in their holdings. (Smith, 1984)
Brown's correspondence in the Davi Det Hompson Manuscript and Archive Collection spans a ten year period, 1972 to 1982. In a letter of February 1973, Brown writes of her admiration for Hompson, noting that only two artists; Davi Det and Marcel Duchamp gave her presents of their work. We know from a letter 10 November 1975, that Davi Det did visit Jean Brown with artist friend, Tom Ockerse and a number of students (see image).Their letters demonstrate a fluid exchange of ideas, a mutual respect, and understanding of the importance for archiving these ephemeral materials.
In response to one of Davi Det's updates on plans for an exhibit at the University of Kansas, and his efforts toward establishing an artist book collection and mail-art archive at V.C.U., her enthusiastic response of 9 September, 1979 begins:"Dear Davi, You are an activist! The pot is always boiling where you are involved, and some day it will have the right amount of pressure..."
David Det was successful in transferring his archive to Special Collections, The James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1980. His archive of Correspondence/Mail-Art and Artists' Books provided a strong foundation for a study collection which has continued to grow. Since his unexpected death in Richmond, VA, December 1996, the collection continues to benefit from his participation and connections in this genre with artists and patrons of a national and international scope.
Wendt, Larry (1996). Concrete Poetry. Retrieved June 15, 2004 From "http://cadre.sjsu.edu/switch/sound/articles/wendt/ng1.htm - Narrative as Genealogy
Held, John,Jr (August 2000). Mail Art Alphabet. Retrieved June 12, 2004, from Mail Art Writings, Essays, Letters,
Bunting, Linda (1997). Inventory of the Jean Brown Papers,1815-1995. Retrieved
June 15, 2004, from The J.Paul Getty Archive, Getty Research Institute and Library
Bonenti, Charles. "Getty center buys archive from Tyringham collector." The Berkshire Eagle 10 April 1986, 25.
"Concrete Poetry: Lenox Library exhibition preview." Springfield Daily News 10 July 1973.
"Jean Brown Dies at 82." The Berkshire Eagle 3 May 1994.
Kupperschmid, Eileen. "Gaga over Dada." The Berkshire Sampler 26 August 1979: 5.
Smith, Roberta. "Obituary-Jean Brown, 82, Avid Collector of Dada, Surrealism and Fluxus."
The New York Times 4 May 1994: B7.
To and From: Davi Det Hompson Correspondents