press release

August 6–October 15, 2023

James Brooks
A Painting Is a Real Thing

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 over 100 paintings, prints, and works on paper drawn from public and private U.S. collections. Throughout his long and prolific career, James Brooks (1906–1992) advocated, with 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 and prints from the entire expanse of Brooks’s seven-decade career. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 176-page catalogue with interpretive essays by Ottmann and Mike Solomon, 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 Francesca and Giotto.

James Brooks: A Painting Is a Real Thing is organized by Klaus Ottmann, Ph.D., Adjunct Curator of the Collection, with support from Assistant Curator and Publications Coordinator Kaitlin Halloran.

James Brooks: A Painting Is a Real Thing, is made possible thanks to the generous support of the James and Charlotte Brooks Fund and the Wolf Kahn Foundation. The Museum’s programs are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, and by the property taxpayers from the Southampton School District and the Tuckahoe Common School District.