Joe Brainard, "The Nancys"
Wed May 7 2008
Photograph: Courtesy Tibor De Nagy Gallery
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
“The Nancys,” the 1972 series of small works by Joe Brainard (1942–1994) based on the popular ’40s cartoon character, contains the artist’s distinctive humor and deft touch. Thanks to him, Nancy, a smiling little girl with a red ribbon in her hair, finds herself in a series of unusual contexts, ranging from the art-historical (drawn onto a postcard of a Goya painting) to the downright naughty (enjoying herself in the middle of a threesome).
The works are rhetorically straightforward—typically an image paired with the title written across the bottom describing Nancy in her newly imagined comic world. If Nancy Was a De Kooning depicts her in the frenetic brushmarks of the master’s “Woman” series. If Nancy Was Abraham Lincoln shows our heroine installed on a purple 4¢ stamp, while in If Nancy Was President Roosevelt, she beams down from the side of Mount Rushmore. As if that weren’t enough, her entire body in If Nancy Was a Ball is rounded into the eponymous form.
As Brainard’s work shows, there is something about the economical and highly plastic nature of Nancy’s rendering that lends her to such distortions. In Brainard’s hands she becomes game for anything, whether it’s sporting an Afro or becoming a wild-eyed acid freak.
Throughout, Brainard walks a fine line between cleverness and camp, showing a love of art history without fearing the lowbrow. In the end, we follow his lead as Nancy’s grinning face insinuates itself into our consciousness.