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Phyllis Bramson In Praise of Folly

A Retrospective, 1985–2015

Phyllis Bramson: In Praise of Folly A Retrospective, 1985–2015 Carrie Johnson Curator | Rockford Art Museum

Phyllis Bramson has been exploring provocative, elusive and

language could reference anything biographical. Of course, it does.

enigmatic fantasies­ — highly erotic yet feminine, a romantic

Which is why she’s so fluent in this alternative language of sorts.

juxtaposition that has walked a narrow tightrope throughout the last thirty years. Bramson’s unique visual language has captivated

The work represented in this retrospective starts with the second

the Chicago art scene over the last several decades, as she has

phase of Bramson’s professional artistic career. During the first,

become a beloved and well-respected artist who continues to

between 1973 and 1980, she created many mixed media doll-like

produce stunning paintings that push boundaries, yet maintain the

sculptures with resemblances to many artists she knew personally,

edginess and eroticism so redolent of her early work. Consistent

and drawings using pastels and mixed media. Entering into a new

themes permeate her work, her colors remain vibrantly acidic and

phase in 1980-81, her primary mode of work shifted to painting.

gender issues are still prominently considered. The figures found in Shaking Still #2 (1985) actually began to In 1994, Rockford Art Museum was fortunate to be gifted by

develop in the late ’70s. Their dance is an erotic interaction found

Francis and June Spiezer with more than 200 pieces of modern and

in many of her paintings from this era. Focusing on a centralized

contemporary art by Chicago-based artists and studio glass artists

play between a woman and a man, the figures contort as if circus

from around the world. Chicago art critic Paul Klein named this

performers. In other works, the couple may be kissing, while the

grouping—which includes Bramson’s work—the most significant

woman bends over backward and the man balances on balls. Her

collection of Chicago art, inside or outside the city. As curator of

heavy mark making, which draws upon her early work in pastels,

Rockford Art Museum, I have been intrigued and fascinated with

is reflected in the gestural poses of these figures; both these

Bramson’s work for many years and pleased that RAM is presenting

qualities gave her work greater physicality and emotionality.

Phyllis Bramson: In Praise of Folly A Retrospective, 1985–2015. Around the same time this body of work was coming to fruition, The themes in Bramson’s work have stayed consistent over the last

Bramson said in a 1986 artist statement, “in the broadest sense

thirty years of her career; though subtle inflections have seeped in,

the paintings emphasize an emotion rather than reason. They are

her focus has remained steady. Incorporating strong female images

developed, perhaps, through an urbanized mentality where one

that teeter on the edge of being suggestive, her work is a strong

can never idealize conditions, where explanations given are stories

aphrodisiac that draws you into the fantastical world of seduction

about transformation and eccentric juxtapositions.” Yet, the work

and flights of imagination. Integrating masterful collage with often

moves on. In contrast to her earlier centralized narratives, much

thin wisps of paint diversely spread across the canvas, her imagery

of her later compositions are decentralized.

is familiar—the subtle and not-so-subtle eroticism is painted and collaged in the land of innocence, fairytales and kitsch. Collage, in

It’s precisely because she’s had her own visual language incorporating

the form of patches, cloth and beadwork, has become much more

vocabulary from numerous art movements and cultural references

prominent recently than its subtle use earlier in her career. The work

for so long, that she’s been able to quietly slip beneath the seams of

incorporates so much of the non-traditional, alternative, risqué art she

art eras throughout the last three decades, retaining her voice—yet

was exposed to as a child in Madison, Wisconsin, where her parents

expressing it in myriad ways that are constantly evolving, yet seem

collected erotic and mostly Oriental art, making Bramson into an

strangely familiar. You can’t quite put your finger on Chicago artist

inadvertent voyeur, that it’s almost unsettling to believe her visual

Phyllis Bramson. Which is just how she likes it.


Phyllis Bramson In Praise of Folly

A Retrospective, 1985–2015

I gratefully acknowledge the support and help from: The Rockford Art Museum Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago Printworks, Chicago Littlejohn Contemporary, New York

Copyright Š 2015 Phyllis Bramson All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission from the artist. Design: Michael Garzel

Anything Goes: Freedom, Fetish, and Phyllis Bramson Danny Orendorff Programs Director | Threewalls

While I can’t confirm it, the Internet tells me that the favorite website of cult classic filmmaker John Waters, consummate artist of all things sex and kitsch, is X-rated and hilarious, Lurid Digs is a website dedicated to dissecting the most perplexing of bedroom interiors as seen in the wanton self-portraiture of men seeking sex online. Make no mistake, the questionably furnished spaces of Lurid Digs are odd enough to begin with, but its the overt sexual charge of the primary subjects depicted that heighten any given room’s contents to a whole other level of tragic novelty.

In his short essay “Dream Kitsch: Gloss on Surrealism,” written in 1925 during the height of the Surrealist art movement, German philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin positions the totemic and icon-heavy artwork of Surrealism as being enabled by kitsch;

Organized into such categories as “Dens from Hell,” “Living Room Wreckage,” “Marvelous Mancaves,” and, my personal favorite, “Hot Anyway,” the amateur at-home photography on Lurid Digs is coupled with wicked criticism of the subject’s unforgivable decor calamities. Part of the brilliance of Lurid Digs is its total collapse of the private and the public, the strange and the ordinary, the pornographic and the pathetic, and the domestic with the virtual. While sexuality is a nebulous, everevolving quality particular to us all, the stuff we surround ourselves with and the desires populating our search-engines are infinitely more easy to trace. How, and inevitably when, the three elements of sexuality, space, and stuff collide determines the harmony, or horror, of our most intimate experiences.

Benjamin goes on to argue that “a new man,” a new subject, is the byproduct of the advent of the industrially and mass-produced phenomena we call kitsch. This subject, Benjamin concludes, is the furnished man: a subject who is “furnished” with dreams, desires, wants, and needs by the constant rush of such exterior forces as art, mass-mediated imagery, commercialism, and capital.2 Icons and symbols, having been assimilated into our psyches, come pre-loaded with signification and particular emotional attachments. The work of the Surrealists, Benjamin seems to suggest, is predicated and dependent upon this quality of Modern subjectivity. Kitsch becomes a method for disrupting ordinary consciousness and reorienting our dreams.

I venture to guess that Phyllis Bramson understands technologies of amorous over-sharing all too well. Her keen awareness of the latent libido beneath the surface of just about everything is implicit throughout her prolific portfolio of painted, collaged, and sculptural artworks from the 1980s to today. Offering erotic and humorous, if somewhat disturbing, depictions of (other-)worldly accoutrements in a number of compromising positions and suggestive arrangements, each of Bramson’s many compositions greets viewers like a riddle disguised as a love-letter. Rarely overt, Bramson’s strangely romantic artwork taunts us with subtlety, and brims with literary subtext. Paradoxes abound and nothing is ever quite as it seems. This is the beguiling work of an artist who once wisely told me that flirtation is nothing but sexuality abstracted. Flirting with the psychosexual subconscious of Americana objects, winking at conventions of ‘good taste,’ and pinching at the backside of our public facades of normalcy: Bramson’s aesthetic is that of the bawdy banal. It is sentimental, and it is smart. It is rooted in the stuff of 1950s American (sub-)urbanity, but appears timeless due to Bramson’s clever usage of appropriation and pastiche. Through iconography and innuendo, Bramson searches for, and somehow depicts, complex worlds of desire, emotion, and curiosity that industry, excess, cultural fantasy, and kitsch-commodity (or, in other words: post-modernity) have conspired to make possible.

What we used to call art begins at a distance of two meters from the body. But now, in kitsch, the world of things advances on the human being; it yields to his uncertain grasp and ultimately fashions its figures in his interior.1

While Bramson’s artwork certainly follows in the wake of Surrealism, her compositional choices indicate that she is more interested in gender and object relations than the automatism and perspectival weirdnesses of such predecessors. The strangeness and disorientation of Bramson’s artwork is derived from the stuff of popular culture made carnal and gone awry. Much like the playful scrutiny of the interiors found on the aforementioned Lurid Digs website, Bramson toys with the iconography of lowbrow Americana by animating old taboos and merging stereotypical depictions of foreign landscapes with the common oddities of domesticity. A 2014 painting of Bramson’s, The Collectors Collection (All That He Owns), seems to retroactively set the stage for her artistic oeuvre. Appearing like the contents of little Omri’s cupboard before his great-grandmother’s magic key animates everything inside, the painting depicts four rows of figurines, florals, and miniature knock-off paintings that re-appear—in some way, shape, form, or another - throughout Bramson’s wide variety of artwork.3 While organized horizontally, The Collectors Collection (All That He Owns) offers no other indication of this being a rational space. It is, instead, a virtual arsenal of near-generic icons available to Bramson for later reconfiguration and folly. Painted in her signature palette, in which cool pastels meet brash fluorescents, Bramson simultaneously levels the commodity playing field by lending chintzy Orientalist statues the same, if not more, psychological charge than the stuff of official art history.

Bramson’s genre-bending brand of irrationality and irreverence is there in the cherubic face of an illustrated clown in love with the unobtainable geisha figurine across the room, in the lustful glances of teacup aristocrats towards the Eskimos trapped in an offensive 1950s snow-globe, and in the unknown erotic possibilities existent within a distant painted pagoda or pleasure garden. Many of these things relate to visual lexicons of leisure-travel, as well as to the corresponding efforts of tourist industries to commodify our often artificial experiences of nature, paradise, times-past, and promise-lands into collectible little fetishes called souvenirs. Whether we’ve actually been to such places, or simply visited the Epcot Center version thereof, is besides the point. What matters is that souvenirs, trinkets, postcards, magnets, and all our other tchotchkes represent desires and memories assigned, abstracted, re-packaged, and made available to us as easily purchasable icons. Such objects become design elements within Bramson’s dimensional collection of mixed-media works from 2015 incorporating shelving, knick-knacks, and painted scrolls. Draping her scrolls from custom shelves featuring careful arrangements of prized household curios, Bramson literally elevates such decorative household wares as a metal cherry-blossom branch and a pair of porcelain swans beyond their physical object-ness and into the realm of artistic composition. For the piece Stories Before Bedtime (Tales of Love) (2015), Bramson has combined a floral wreath depicting two coquettish Victorians at its center with a pair of Peeping Tom garden gnomes and a long, painted scroll that concludes its cascade with a scene of some good, old-fashioned toe sucking. Appearing something like a makeshift alter, the painted-scroll element of the work seems to gesture towards animation of the actual objects at its top. Yet, Bramson resists linear storytelling in favor of spacious insinuation. The surprising juxtapositions she produces are as charming as they are disarming, pointing towards abstract dirty jokes, harmless fun, and fantastical unpredictability. Take Bramson’s painting from 2012, It’s an Old Story...But a New Day. In its top half, a miniature Russian jester clings desperately onto the backs of two Japanese woodcut figures that appear either mid-coitus or deep in sleep. Around them are collaged elements from various watercolor landscape paintings Bramson found at resale stores and cut-up for re-use in her own artwork, as well as a windy trellis of Celtic florals. In the bottom half are two petite depictions of utopian Eastern non-places (a woman under a cliffside matsu tree, a floating Imperial palace) framing the inexplicably suggestive grouping of a hobo-clown, snowman, and geisha. Composed with the orgiastic anarchy of your local thrift store’s bauble shelf, It’s an Old Story...But a New Day, like much of Bramson’s artwork, bewilders with whimsy. While the painting refuses narrative coherency and, therefore,

may frustrate rational desires for clarity and happy endings, its openness to interpretation overwhelms the work with possibility. There’s an optimism in the ability to render these delightfully nonsensical worlds from cheap things at Bramson’s immediate disposal, and a radical sense of generosity in realizing that she does not shut down myriad interpretations of the phenomena depicted. Bramson’s figures and landscapes are poised to evoke and disturb many feelings in many people. In making this all manifest, the artist seems intent on letting a viewer know: anything goes. The aptly titled Perpetual Offerings (2002) gives vision to Bramson’s enduring spirit of freedom and frivolity when it comes to the wide world of things and their potential for providing fascination. A saturated, boldhued mix of painting and collage, the work features a bare-breasted crimson fairy and an extra-limbed figurine with a lightbulb for a brain collecting various flora and fauna in a clamshell. A collage of petals, berries, and bulbs oozes like lava from curvy red barnacles at the top of the canvas. A thought-bubble appears above the robot-figure’s lightbulbbrain, filled with yet another collage of glittery, pearlescent flowers and other matter that appears nearly celestial. At the very center, another thought bubble disrupts the rich purple landscape. It contains a single hand that holds a golden goblet towards the sky, perhaps hoping to collect some of the abundant gorgeousness cascading all around. Influential feminist art critic Lucy Lippard, writing in 1977 about the challenges faced by female artists employing hobby-craft materials and sentimental tropes within their artwork to critically compete in the world of fine art, argued that “the ‘over-decoration’ of the home and the fondness for bric-a-brac often attributed to female fussiness or just plain Bad Taste can just as well be attributed to creative restlessness.”4 Indeed, with over 40 years worth of thematically consistent artwork already produced and a present-day studio flush with collected novelties and dime-store decor ready to be deconstructed and re-imagined, Bramson shows no sign of resting. As the motifs of abundance and collection in Perpetual Offerings might suggest, Bramson knows that her inspiration is endless; fertilized by the ever-flowing rush of things us ordinary individuals purchase and discard in our constant attempt to decorate our lives with beauty and intrigue. n 1: Benjamin, Walter. “Dream Kitsch: Gloss on Surrealism” in The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008. p. 238. 2: Ibid. p. 238. 3: This sentence contains reference to the 1980 children’s novel The Indian in the Cupboard by British author Lynne Reid Banks. 4: Lippard, Lucy. “Making Something from Nothing (Towards a Definition of Women’s “Hobby Art”)” in The Craft Reader. Ed. Glenn Adamson. Oxford, Berg, 2010. p. 486.

Phyllis Bramson: Welcome to the Pleasure Dome Lynne Warren Curator | Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Although the rest of the poem is little-known these days, Samuel

to great contemporary effect in exploring well-worn tales such as Eve

Taylor Coleridge’s opening lines for his 1816 Romantic masterpiece

in the Garden of Eden (Eve, 1993 ) and examining such tropes as the

Kubla Khan anchored the phrase “a stately pleasure-dome” firmly

innocence of animals (see Promiscuous Joinings, 1994) or the follies of

into the bedrock of the English language. Thus the idea of a place

human love (as in Left Behind (Sputtering) under a Cloud (of Winter), 2004)

specifically for pleasure, covered by a protective force that would

within her constant meditation on the nature of desire.


keep out hostile or inimical forces, entered the Western imagination. But inseparable from the notion of such a place (or state of mind) is

As I have written elsewhere, paradoxical to Bramson’s project, in

Orientalism, a movement that fixated on the “exotic” offerings of the

modern times desire has evolved into a very different entity.3 Once

Orient—originally Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa, and

a place of enormous tension in which a great deal of time was spent,

which later included the “Far East,” China, Japan and the Indochina

as the seven volumes of Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu can

peninsula—as goods and ideas from cultures little-known or once-

attest, desire today is not much of a stopping point. It is a fleeting,

forbidden (as was Japan’s before it opened to the west in the mid-

transitory state, with no ‘load,’ no weight, as in today’s world of

1800s) became available to Europe’s aristocracy and a growing

instant communication and instant gratification, desires seemingly can

merchant class. That the art, traditional objects and crafts, poetry, and

very easily be met. Bramson’s art, like Coleridge’s poem, beckons with

music of various and quite divergent cultures were consumed as a blur

sweet enchantments, presenting, to use the poet’s words, “gardens

of exoticism that evoked perfumed scents, voluptuous pleasure, and

bright with sinuous rills/Where blossomed many an incense-bearing

refined luxury and had little to do with the meanings and traditions of

tree” as well as “waning moons” that hang over a “woman wailing

these cultures is undeniable. But the current judgments of Orientalism

for her demon-lover.”4 Yes, for the most part the scenes are gentle

as racist, dehumanizing, and Colonialist seems a bit extreme; most

and pleasant, with much to engage and please the eye in the form

who enjoyed the Orientalism fad indulged themselves with beauty

of myriad goings-on depicted in delightful taffy-candy colors. Yet the

and the thrill of the new and were not rapacious cultural mercenaries.

pleasant worlds have their disturbances, and tears are shed and lovers torn apart, but such are the agonies of desire. Her creations, male

Like all art movements, Orientalism had its day, peaking in the late

and female, also struggle against their environments, as can be most

19 century. By the time of Phyllis Bramson’s upbringing in the mid-

easily seen in two of the earlier works in this exhibition, Shaking Still

20th century, it was largely relegated to kitsch in the form of figurines

#2 (1985) and Shipwrecked (1987) which shows a water spout on the

of geishas and fat happy Buddhas, metal wall plaques depicting cherry

horizon and swamped and broken ships all around.


blossoms, cartoonish prints and paintings showing harems, Chinese landscapes, or Japanese pagodas and other such things. And it had

Thoughtful, well-informed, aware of the latest trends and philosophies,

a solid presence in the family household; her father was the home’s

Bramson passionately paints from her center, so uniquely shaped in

decorator, and, as she stated in a recent interview: “Our house was

her formative years. The result is her lovely colors, fluttery, vignetted

filled with naked figurines, and paintings, and nude figured ash trays.

compositions, and flowery and cartoony imagery create works that

There was also a lot of oriental aspects to our house and there was

are really like no one else’s, despite a recent resurgence of such

kitsch.”2 And while Coleridge’s dome was metaphorical (as Xanadu

imagery given the interest in Japanese anime. At base the works

was actually “girdled round” with “walls and towers”) and made

are transgressive; within the imagery, which is presented with a

possible through the pastiche of Orientalism, Bramson’s is conceptual

certain childlike wonder, not only is there gender-bending, there is

in that it overarches her entire body of work and employs Orientalism

species-bending. Animal and vegetable alike seem to share copulative

passions. In Eve, one of the earlier works represented in this selection,

He Owns), a recent work from 2014. This painting drives home the

skirts have to be firmly held down and apples gleam like the glans

fact that Bramson’s creations are not mere sentimental ruminations

of an erect penis and drip with secretions. And all this is fluttered

on a more innocent time using yesteryear’s cornucopia of ideas and

about with roses and cherry blossoms, which, as Bramson points out,

imagery. They do contain social commentary, political analysis, and

are the truly transgressive bits as they are cut out of other people’s

feminist critique and are works of contemporary art that fully inhabit

paintings—albeit for the most part mass-produced “sofa art.” In her

today’s reality. In The Collector’s Collection, displayed with happy

flouting of contemporary art conventions that privilege concept over

Buddhas statues and graceful geisha figurines, are abstract paintings,

all else, Bramson holds onto centuries-old traditions of object making.

including a “drip” painting; silhouettes (which call up Kara Walker);


a Jeff Koons-like flower sculpture (if, that is, Koons had less skilled Over the past several years, Bramson has turned to making works

fabricators); and other objets d’art, all neatly arranged in lateral tiers,

that she dubs “the scroll pieces”—including Lovemaking at the End of

a composition strikingly unlike the frothy and vectored illusionistic

Springtime (female), 2006 and Transportation of a Wounded Lover, 2015—

space of most Bramson works. If the beguilements produced under

that are more fully objects. In truth, her work has always been object-

Orientalism which once potently expressed desire are now forbidden

based insofar as she begins with existing items such as the mass-

as politically incorrect, how do they end up in what seems an

produced or found paintings, pieces of fabric, bric-a-brac, lace, and

object lesson on the desires of today’s patrons of the arts? Given

so on. But these items have tended to be subsumed into more or less

its purposefully redundant title, it seems this work proposes that in

two-dimensional formats, including some delightful bas-reliefs such

fulfilling desire by the acquiring (possessing) of the productions of the

as Little Goody Two Shoes (1996) or Serial Longing (2011). The scroll

global art world—here symbolized by the various objects which have

pieces, however, are fully three-dimensional, although because they

origins in different times and places—today’s collectors may indeed

are wall-mounted, they cannot be circumnavigated. A figurine or

be as swept away by fad and fashion as those who were besotted

group of objects is presented on a custom-built shelf, and off that shelf

by Orientalism (or any other trend) in its day. A cautionary tale, that

cascades a series of images that make up a scroll which reaches to the

as much as we think we are free of small-mindedness, prejudice, or

floor. The drawing Study for Lovemaking at the End of Springtime (female),

even simply the weight of the past, perhaps we never really will be.

2006 gives a major clue as to the origins of this unique form. In this

Within Phyllis Bramson’s pleasure dome, there are many such lessons

drawing, emanating from the breast of a woman is an unwieldy and

to be learned.


lengthy scroll as she stands, naked except for her open golden robe. As it spills out and indeed dominates the pleasant green landscape, it is as if her heart is unfolding, and all her secret desires and fantasies and dreams are being exposed. Indeed, the woman’s face is flushed pink—with what, shame? Guilt? Thus the images on the scrolls are literal story-books that depict the rich biography and inner lives of the “creatures” Bramson has rescued from kitsch anonymity and imbued with human desire, love, and longing.

1: Although first published in 1816, the poem was written years earlier after, as Coleridge confessed, his having ingested opium and fallen asleep where the lines presented themselves in a dream. 2: Interview, Inside\Within,, accessed May 22, 2015. 3: In the essay “I Tremble for You: Phyllis Bramson and The Aesthetic Gladness of Fulsome Desire,” in Phyllis Bramson: I Tremble for You (Morgantown, West Virginia: The Art Museum of West Virginia, 2009), p. 6.

Lest we lose sight of exactly what is going on in Bramson’s pleasure

4: Kubla Khan, (lines 12–16).

dome, however, she presents us with The Collector’s Collection (All That

5: Ibid., Inside\Within interview.

1985 | Shaking Still #2 | oil on canvas | 96” x 72”

1987 | Shipwrecked | oil on canvas | 72” x 96”

1989 | Going From One Place To Another | pastel on paper | 42” x 126”

1993 | Eve | oil, collage on canvas | 72” x 60”

1994 | Promiscuous Joinings | oil, collage on canvas mounted on wood | 68” x 68”

1996 | Little Goody Two Shoes | mixed media, found objects and oil on canvas and wood | 49” x 64”

2001 | The Night Teems With Ill Assorted Couples | monoprint, mixed media, collage on paper | 60” x 38”

2002 | Perpetual Offerings | oil, mixed media, collage on canvas | 96” x 68”

2004 | Left Behind (Sputtering) Under a Cloud (of Winter) | oil, mixed media, collage on canvas | 72� x 84�

2008 | The Reluctant Bride | oil, mixed media, collage on canvas | 60” x 70”

2014 | The Collectors Collection (All That He Owns) | oil, mixed media, collage on canvas | 72” x 60”

2015 | Fancytastic | oil, mixed media, found objects, collage on canvas | 48” x 68”

2006 | Lovemaking at the End of Springtime (female) | found objects, mixed media, collage on paper | 18’’w x 84”h x 12”d

| detail |

2015 | Transportation of a Wounded Lover | found objects, mixed media, collage on paper | 24”w x 85”h x 14”d

| detail |

2015 | Her Longings (His Desire) | found objects, mixed media, collage on paper | 31”w x 97”h x 14”d

| detail |

2015 | Stories Before Bedtime (Tales of Love) | found objects, mixed media, collage on paper | 25”w x 86”h x 14”d

| detail |


1963 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL


1964 University of Wisconsin/Madison

MFA 1973 School of the Art Institute/

1988 Victorian College of the Arts,

Melbourne, Australia 1992 Dart Gallery, Chicago, IL

(1980, 1983, 1985, 1988) 1994 Phyllis Kind Gallery, Chicago, IL

(also 1996)


2007 Awarded Professor Emeritus in

Drawing and Painting from the University of Illinois/Chicago

1998 The Cultural Center of Chicago,

Chicago, IL 2000 Littlejohn Contemporary,

New York, NY (also 2002, 2004)

2007 Advising Graduate Students in the

Drawing & Painting Dept. at the School of the Art Institute

2001 Fort Wayne Museum, Fort Wayne, IN 2003/6 Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, IL

(also 2000)


Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, “A Thousand Secret and Scattered Yearnings” (catalog)

1986 Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant

r e s u m e

1988 Senior Fulbright Scholar

I-Space, Chicago Gallery of The University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, IL, “A Thousand Secret and Scattered Yearnings” (catalog)

1993 John Simon Guggenheim Grant

Senior National Endowment for the Arts

1997 Rockefeller Foundation Grant

2004 Boulder Art Museum, Boulder, CO

2000 Illinois Arts Council Project

2007 Grover/Thurston Gallery, Seattle, WA

Completion Grant

2002 Institute For The Humanities,

University of Illinois/Chicago Travel Grant

2008 Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis, MO,

“Love, Kisses, Tears... Heartache!”

2004 Artadia: The Fund for Art and Dialog,

Jury Award

2009 Laura Mesaros Gallery, a branch of the

University of West Virginia Museum, Morgantown, WV, “I Tremble For You” (catalog)

2009 Anonymous Was A Woman Award 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award,

The School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign, IL

Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, NY, “Kerfuffles” (also 2006, 2005)

2010 Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago, IL,

“Phyllis Bramson and Judith Geichman”

2012 Distinguished Artist of the Year/

2011 Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis, MO,

2014 Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime


2012 Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago, IL,

“Wonderland, A Bright and Guilty Place”

Chicago, The Union League of Chicago Achievement Award Recipient

1979 The New Museum Of Contemporary

Art, New York, NY

1983 Carnegie Melon University,

Hewlett Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA

1986 The Renaissance Society at The

University of Chicago (career survey), Chicago, IL (catalog)

John A. Day Gallery, Warren M. Lee Center for Fine Arts, University of South Dakota,Vermillion, SD “The Provocateurs” paintings by Phyllis Bramson and Adam Scott “Dalliances of Romantic Nature” (Works on Paper)

2013 Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago, IL,

“Love and Affection in a Hostile World” (Paintings) Littlejohn Contemporary, New York, NY, “Small Personal Dilemmas”

2014 Northeastern Illinois University,

NEIU Gallery, Chicago, IL, “My World.... and everywhere it takes me!”

2015 Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, IL,

“Phyllis Bramson: In Praise of Folly A Retrospective, 1985–2015”

2016 Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL,

(re-curated) “Phyllis Bramson: A Survey – Under a Pleasure Dome”

2003 Frist Center for the Arts, Nashville, TN


Washington, DC

2005 Jane Voorheres Zimmerli Art Museum,

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 2006 South Eastern Center for Contemporary

Arts, Winston-Salem, NC 2007 Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University,

Lewisburg, PA

Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO

1980 Contemporary Art Center,

Art Chicago, Chicago, IL, “The Hairy Who and the Imagist Legacy”

Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, IL, “Drawing as a Mirror of Self ”

Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, IL “The Francis and June Spiezer Collection”

Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago, IL, “As We Live and Breathe”

Kansas City, KS

Caracas, Venezuela

1991 Smart Museum, University of Chicago,

2010 Natalie and James Thompson Art

Gallery of San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, “Chicago Imagism(s)” (James Yood, guest curator),

Chicago, IL

1993 Corcoran Museum of Art,

Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL, “35 Years of Public Art”

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Galleries, Philadelphia, PA, “Summer Shuffle: Contemporary Art @ The PAFA Remixed”

South Bend Museum of Art, South Bend, IN, (Jerome J. Crowley Community Gallery), “Through An Artist’s Eye: Recent Acquisitions to the SBMA’s Permanent Collection”

Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH, “Midwest Artists Drawing From the Museum’s Holdings and Local Collections”

2015 Ringling College of Art + Design,

Sarasota, FL, “Objects to Be Contemplated”

SELECTED PRIVATE & PUBLIC COLLECTIONS Art Bank – Department of State Art Institute of Chicago

Washington, DC

Bard College

Greenville County Museum, Greenville, SC

Printworks Gallery, Chicago, IL, “Cover Stories: The Art of the Book Jacket”

Pop-Up Gallery, Chicago, IL, “Prints: Paschke and His Contemporaries From California to Chicago to N.Y.”

Brooklyn Art Library

1995 PPOW Gallery, New York, NY 1996 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL

1997 Southwestern Center for Contemporary

Art, Winston-Salem, NC

2000 The New Museum for Contemporary

Art, New York, NY

Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago, IL, “Studio Pedagogies”

3 person exhibition

1985 Seattle Arts Museum, Seattle, WA

1990 Museo D’Arte Macc,


The Sulllivan Galleries, Chicago, IL

2009 Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL,

1986 Kansas City Arts Center,

Carthage College, H.F. Johnson Gallery of Art, Kenosha, WI, “The Return of Rococo” 3 person exhibition

2008 School of the Art Institute,

Washington, DC

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

New York, NY

1979 Smithsonian Institution,

Cincinnati, OH

Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL, “Inventory: The EAM Collection”

2004 National Academy of Design,

2017 Herron Galleries, Herron School

of Art & Design, Indianapolis, IN

Art Museum, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN

Block Museum at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

2002 Palm Springs Museum,

Palm Springs, CA

2011 Museum of Contemporary Art,

Block Museum Brooklyn Museum Chazen Art Museum

Chicago, IL, “Seeing Is a Kind of Thinking: A Jim Nutt Companion”

Corcoran Museum

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI, “Chicago School, Imagists in Context”

Elmhurst Art Museum

2 ­­­­ 012 Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery,

Chicago, IL, “Figurism” curated by Doug Stapleton, Assist. Curator of Art 2013 Northern Illinois Art Museum, Dekalb,

IL, “Virtue and Vice” curated by Peter Olson, Assist. Director Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, IL, “Through the Ages: 100 Years of RAM”

Department of the Interior Elmhurst College Hirshorn Museum Illinois Center State Building Illinois State Museum Illinois State University Kresge Art Museum Library of Congress Madison Musuem of Contemporary Art Milwaukee Art Museum

Musee de Toulon, Toulon, France Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago National Museum of American Art Northern Illinois University Museum Oberlin College Museum Orlando Museum of Art Palm Springs Museum Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Playboy Magazine Racine Art Museum Rockford Art Museum Smart Museum, University of Chicago Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame South Bend Indiana Museum of Art Southern Illinois Museum The New Museum of Contemporary Art The Union League Club of Chicago University of Arizona Art Museum University of Colorado/Boulder Museum of Art University of Missouri University of North Carolina, Greensboro Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia West Virginia University Art Museum Wicker Park Library/Chicago Zimmerli Art Museum

RELEVANT CATALOGS, ESSAYS & ARTICLES Yood, James, “The Return of the Rococo” H.F. Johnson Gallery, Carthage College, Kenosha, WI, 2013 Warren, Lynne, “I Tremble for you” Laura Moseros Gallery, A Branch of the University of West Virginia Museum, Morgantown, WV, Sept. 3–Oct. 8, 2009, pp 5-9 Wainwright, Lisa, “Ah...Decadence!” The Sullivan Galleries, The School of The Art Institute, Chicago, IL, Aug 23– Sept 27, 2008, p 20 Silverman, Larry, “Floating Worlds: The Art of Phyllis Bramson: A Thousand Secret and Scattered Yearnings” SoFa Gallery, Indiana University/Bloomington, Feb 8–Mar 9, 2002, pp 6–7

Robert Shroeder, “Phyllis Bramson: A Thousand Secret and Scattered Yearnings” Dialogue Magazine, Nov/Dec 2001, pp 21–22 The Art Museum at Florida International University, Miami, FL, “American Art Today: Fantasies & Curiosities” pp 8, 18 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, “Art in Chicago, 1945–1995” November 14, 1996–March 23, 1997: pp 233, 244 Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art Work, Salem, SC, “Woman’s Work/ Examining the Feminine in Women’s Work” July 19–Sept. 3, 1997: p 7 Kirshner, Judith Russi. “Phyllis Bramson, 43rd Exhibition of Contemporary Painting” The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 30, 1993–January 4, 1994: pp 44, 45 Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, SC. “Already Buddha” September–October, 1993: p 10 Adrian Dennis. “Phyllis Bramson 1973–1986” The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL Guenther, Bruce. “States of War/New European and American Painting” Seattle Art Museum, April 18–June 23, 1985: pp 28-29 Logan, Susan. “Phyllis Bramson” The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, NY, “In a Pictorial Framework” August 28– September 15, 1979: pp 32-49 Plagens, Peter, “Phyllis Bramson: Small Personal Dilemmas” The Wall Street Journal, (September 13, 2013) Walker, Hamsa, Introduction to “1000 Words, Peter Saul” ARTFORUM Summer 2009 Bonetti, David, “Best Bets, Phyllis Bramson: Love, Kisses, Tears (And Heartache)” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, (April 1, 2008) Hawkins, Margaret, “Ten Top Personal Favorite Shows In 2006” Chicago Sun-Times, (December 29, 2006): weekend n 17 Berger, Philip, “Phyllis Bramson at Carl Hammer Gallery” Time Out Chicago, (Nov.30–Dec. 6, 2006): p 67 Smith, Roberta, “Artist to Artist: A Decade of the Space Program” New York Times (May 24, 2002): p 7 Berlind, Robert, “Phyllis Bramson at Littlejohn Contemporary” Art In America (December 2000): pp 95-96 Hixson, Kathryn. “Feminine Wiles” New Art Examiner (February 1997): pp 21–24, 56

Edelman, Robert. “The Figure Returns,” Art in America (March 1994): pp 39-43 Yood, James. “Phyllis Bramson at Dart Gallery” ARTFORUM (May 1992): p 122 Hanson, Henry. “Bramson Paints Pantomimes of Erotic Desire” Chicago Magazine (August 1990): p 22 Frueh, Joanna. “Recent Oils Show Phyllis Bramson at Technical and Emotional Peak” St. Louis Post Dispatch (July 26, 1987): p 4-C Frueh, Joanna. “Phyllis Bramson at the Renaissance Society” Art in America (September, 1986) Raynor, Vivian. “Phyllis Bramson” New York Times (May 23, 1986) Westerbeck, Cody. “Phyllis Bramson” ARTFORUM (Summer 1986): p 131 Russell, John. “Phyllis Bramson at Monique Knowlton” New York Times (March 12, 1982). Larson, Kay. “Phyllis Bramson” Village Voice (April 15, 1981) Morrison, C. L. “Phyllis Bramson at Marianne Deson Gallery” ARTFORUM (April 1978): pp 72-73

REPRESENTED BY Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago Printworks, Chicago Littlejohn Contemporary, New York

BOARD OF TRUSTEES Daniel G. Saavedra, President Anita Layng, Past President John Holevas, President Elect Karen Harding, Vice President Lisa Lindman, Vice President Greg Harlan, Treasurer David Boccignone, Secretary Paul Burkholder Diane Jaroch Cain Lynn Fischer-Carlson Peggy Fry Gail Funderburg Rob Funderburg Jerry Kortman   Cindy Luther   Patrick O’Keefe Steve Pitkin Scott Prine Larry Sheets Nancy von Lugossy Kay Wadsworth Dick Behr, Trustee Emeritus STAFF Linda Dennis, Executive Director Carrie Johnson, Curator Nancy E. Sauer, Office Manager Sarah Bursley McNamara, Community Relations Rich Hacker, Education Coordinator Scott Saporiti, Marketing Communications + Design Andrew Haller, Registrar Denise Glasenapp, Education Assistant


In In Praise Praise of of Folly Folly I am perfectly comfortable with the description that my work projects a capricious irritability and deception, as I strive for the pieces to be willfully fantastic and edgy. On the surface they provide a fictitious backdrop for eroticism; believing that the hand still has an aura, and also can be a repository for tenderness, occasionally projecting originality and intoxication. I want my work to reflect the ambiguity of the everyday; thus redemptive and wickedly subversive, gorgeous and undone – something to be celebrated and subject to suspicion as a marginalized site. In many ways, I am a painter of Folly! I march to my own drum, follow my own “deal.” Do I seem a bit “off?” Well, to quote that famous philosopher, Popeye... “I y’am what I y’am!!!!!!


phyllis BRAMSON

Phyllis Bramson: In Praise of Folly  

Exhibition catalog for Phyllis Bramson's Retrospective at the Rockford Art Museum.

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