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Joan Brown: Meditations on Love

Posted by on June 26, 2012

Joan and Donald, 1982. Now on view on the 3rd floor of the MAH in the Art Forum Gallery.

We are thrilled to welcome our Curator of Art & Exhibitions, Susan Hillhouse Leask, to the blogging crew here at the MAH. Susan will be writing about her experiences developing exhibitions and working with artists in the Santa Cruz community.

Once an exhibition is installed and the next exhibition is somewhat organized, as a curator I enjoy a period that feels “golden.” The gallery tours start, the viewers’ questions and the dialogue begin, and I have an opportunity to communicate what compelled me to choose a certain artist, a particular piece or an overriding exhibition theme. I have a chance to “introduce” to our Museum visitors artists of whom I have a deep knowledge and for whom I have infinite respect.

Today was such a golden day. A group of about twenty women had scheduled a meeting at the Museum and invited me to share with them, over an hour’s time, the results of a three-year exhibition planning project: Joan Brown: Meditations on Love. I intended to talk with them about Joan Brown’s life, her loves and her tragic death in India almost 22 years ago.  I wanted to discuss her artwork in terms of its contextual place, both at the time of its creation and today, as it continues to grow in critical acclaim.

Within the warm glow of any finished exhibition, I seek a space for reflection. So early this afternoon, before the group arrived, I sat in the Art Forum Gallery for a few minutes and thought about Joan Brown–not the famous artist of art history textbooks and world-class museums, but the woman who created these iconic paintings now installed in our third-floor gallery. I wondered how I would present to this group the crucial essence of a woman I did not know personally, but whom I felt I “knew” intimately through her life’s work.

When the group joined me in the gallery, I found myself saying that my favorite thing about Joan Brown was her ability to risk her autonomy for love. She loved her son and her four husbands; she loved artmaking; she loved life. She was a feminist who loved domestic activities. She loved animals, and she loved dancing and swimming.  Joan Brown also loved her independence and self-reliance, and these she did not abdicate. Ever.