Sarah Braman

[Artist]

“I tend not to have a ton of no-nevers.”
Things Sarah Braman likes:
The challenge and the fear
That terror of: this isn’t going to work at all
Finding some way, digging some way out

In 2011, Sarah Braman sectioned an old camper trailer and scattered its pieces throughout a gallery like flotsam. In some places, she added gentle accents of lavender spray paint; in others, she affixed deep-hued Plexiglas cubes like curiously empty fish tanks. Some of the camper’s chunks were tipped off their natural axes and some of its innards—a mattress, a window—were affixed to the walls like confident, stately paintings, as if they were always meant to be art.

Braman has a penchant for seeing the most common of objects—desks, cushions, file cabinets, tents—through the eye of an outsider. She extracts an unremarkable portion of the world, makes a few quick alterations, and then presents something fresh and unexpected. It’s a sleight-of-hand move that characterizes great assemblage, and Braman does it using a painter’s transformative touch. With her own vocabulary of marks and materials, she gives motion to her sculptures, sending them tumbling through the world, accreting color and detritus as they go. If you look at these objects with art in mind, they suggest an idiosyncratic lineage of artists—Odilon Redon, Robert Rauschenberg, John McCracken, Rachel Harrison—but the work itself carries an attitude of casual disinterest toward the -isms of fine art.

Braman lives with her family outside of Amherst, Massachusetts, and, occasionally, in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, a few blocks away from CANADA, a gallery she co-runs with her husband, Phil Grauer; Suzanne Butler; and the artist Wallace Whitney. Since 2002, the space has developed a singular, adventurous position in contemporary art, exhibiting a family of artists (Xylor Jane, Brian Belott, Michael Mahalchick, Katherine Bernhardt, Michael Williams) who are both visually cohesive and consistently unpredictable.

I spoke to Braman at my apartment while Grauer tended to their newborn in the next room. A few weeks later I attended the gallery’s annual summer sleepover at a Quaker retreat center in rural Massachusetts, where Braman and Grauer had gathered several dozen artists and friends to play badminton, strum instruments, sing, make piles of drawings, and spend a nice, long weekend forgetting about the buzzing, urban art world 150 miles down the road.

—Ross Simonini

I. THAT SPINNING PLACE

THE BELIEVER: How do you find the objects you use in your work?

SARAH BRAMAN: It tends to start with the stuff that’s closest. If I wind up getting hooked into something, then I might go out looking for it. I’ll get a hankering for something. But a lot of the time it starts with furniture that’s around the house, or stuff I see when I’m driving around that’s on the side of the road. We live in Amherst, Massachusetts, so in the early spring when the students move out there’s always a bunch of junk along the road when they’re leaving their dorms and apartments.

BLVR: And what about the camper?

SB: I wanted one that fit into a truck so I didn’t have to deal with a chassis or anything like that. The shape’s kind of cool. It has more structure to it. It wasn’t that hard to find, really, but, you know, to find one that’s not too rusted and cheap enough and they could deliver it…

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Illustration by Tony Millionaire

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