Frederick J. Brown at Hudson River Museum

Frederick J. Brown (1945–2012) was a pioneering figure in New York City’s art scene of the 1970s and 1980s and developed groundbreaking approaches to abstraction, figurative expressionism, and portraiture. This exhibition features a series of five monumental works on paper titled The Actress: A Drawing in Five Parts, a recent gift to the Museum by American art collector Marilyn Gould. Frederick J. Brown: A Drawing in Five Parts was organized by the Hudson River Museum and will be on view from December 9, 2022 through April 2, 2023.

The series explores the emotive progression of a stage performance by actor Jillian O’Brien. Homing in on Brown’s interests in Black expression, performance, and creativity, this exhibition turns a lens on his unique, experimental, and powerful practice of portraiture. Together, the artworks on view present a visual performance in painting that captures the dynamic spectrum of emotion embedded in the creative process. 

Drawing from his African American and Native American ancestry, as well as a breadth of knowledge in art-historical tradition, Brown engaged with American history and music, the urban fabric, religion, and spirituality. Born in Georgia and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Brown divided his time between New York City and Phoenix, Arizona. His loft studio located at 120 Wooster Street in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan became a central gathering place for artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and performance artists. There, he collaborated with jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, and Abstract Expressionist painter Willem De Kooning, among others. 

The exhibition will feature interpretive content and a new essay by American art historian and curator Lowery Stokes Sims. The essay will be published in an accompanying brochure and online on HRM’s website.

She states: “Frederick J. Brown is still an overlooked participant in the 1980s phenomenon of Neo Expressionism. I have always admired the vibrancy of Brown’s artistic vision as he brought a variety of approaches in painting and drawings to his long-time project of painting the musicians and singers of jazz history. This series of portraits of Jillian O’Brien provides us with a glimpse of his artistic versatility.”

About the Artist

Frederick James Brown (1945–2012) had a twenty-five year retrospective at the Museum of the People’s Revolution in Beijing in 1988, becoming the second American artist to have an exhibition in the People’s Republic of China and the first artist of African descent. Brown’s work is in public and private art collections throughout the world, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Lowery Stokes Sims is a specialist in contemporary art, craft and design. She has served on the education and curatorial staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1972-99), as executive director and president The Studio Museum in Harlem (2000-2007), and retired as Curator Emerita from the Museum of Art and Design (2007-2015).

More recently she has worked as an independent curator and consultant for numerous exhibitions at various institutions, including the Caribbean Cultural Center, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles, Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Center for Art, Design & Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

She was Visiting Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (2018-2020) and served as the 2021-22 Kress-Beinecke Professor at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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