A Painting is a Real Thing
August 6 - October 15, 2023 | Guest Curated by Dr. Klaus Ottmann
The Parrish Art Museum is organizing James Brooks: A Painting is a Real Thing, a comprehensive survey of significant scope comprised of some fifty paintings drawn from public and private U.S. collections. Throughout his long and prolific career James Brooks (1906–1992) advocated, with a messianic zeal, the primacy of paint—what happens on the surface—as the only authentic “subject” of a work of art. He embraced experimentation and shied away from developing any dominant method or style in order to avoid, as he once put it, “one’s own pictorial clichés.” Color alone remains the consistent and essential component in Brooks’s work.
The first full-scale retrospective organized in some 35 years, James Brooks: A Painting is a Real Thing will provide an overdue reappraisal of this artist who boldly disrupted any tendency toward repeated formula or purely formal decisions in his work, extending the vitality and validity of Abstract Expressionism well beyond its textbook limits.
Guest curated by Dr. Klaus Ottmann, A Painting is a Real Thing will feature paintings and a selection of important works on paper from the entire expanse of Brooks’s four-decade career. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 125-page catalogue with interpretive essays by Ottmann and contributing writers, plus a detailed chronology and bibliography.
A Painting is a Real Thing will illuminate Brooks’s entire career as it was shaped early on by Social Realism and further developed in New York where he worked as a sign letterer and attended night classes at the Art Students League (1927–1930). From 1936–1942, he joined the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project and worked on a 235-foot mural for the rotunda of the Marine Air Terminal at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Flight traces the story of man’s impulse to fly, evincing Brooks’s mastery of traditional painting and his solid grounding in the history of art, especially Renaissance technique and the monumentality of the frescoes of Piero della Francesco and Giotto.