The prodigiously gifted artist and writer Joe Brainard died of Aids in a hospital in New York in May 1994, at the age of 52. He had long been revered in certain parts of the New York art and poetry worlds, though he never achieved, or, by all accounts, desired, the celebrity and status of Andy Warhol or Claes Oldenburg or Jim Dine, alongside whose work his elegant collages were first presented to British gallery-goers at the Hayward's Pop Art show of 1969. But Brainard wasn't really a Pop artist, and though a big Warhol fan, instinctively resisted the brutal equation between art and commodification that Pop Art propounded. In an interview of 1977, around the time he more or less gave up his artistic career to devote himself to his two favourite recreations, smoking and reading novels, Brainard suggested it was probably the eclectic nature of his output that had saved him from developing into a brand name:
I don't have a definite commodity . . . I've had oil-painting shows that were very realistic, then I've done jack-off collages, cut-outs one year and drawings . . . it's all been different . . . People want to buy a Warhol or a person instead of a work. My work's never become 'a Brainard'.
LRB 17 July 2008 | PDF Download