THIS WAY BROUWN

In the early 1960s, Stanley Brouwn, who was born in 1935 in Paramaribo in Suriname, South America, and died last year in Amsterdam, began to develop his first artworks based on simple conceptual considerations, examining the discrepancy between spatial experiences and the ways of recording and visualizing them on paper respectively. As early as 1960, the artist, who had moved to Amsterdam from the Dutch colony Suriname in 1957, dropped paper sheets on the city’s streets only to pick them up again later. By doing so, he was able to “record” or “register” the presence of unknown passers-by – by the traces of their footsteps.

A second project that Brouwn started in the early 1960s is his most famous one: He asked pedestrians in the street to give him directions to a certain destination by drawing the way on a piece of paper the artist provided. The artist stamped the results – fragments of subjective city maps of their own relative scale – with THIS WAY BROUWN, signed them and eventually, presented them in his exhibitions. The artist repeated this process in a variety of international cities. When occasionally a person was not able to give any directions and thus, could not draw or write anything, the piece of paper had to stay blank. However, for the artist, these white sheets reflected a process of thinking about ways of getting to a destination; and he included these pieces as final works in his exhibitions.

Stanley Brouwn: THIS WAY BROUWN, 1964. The artist had a person draw a map leading to the Dam Platz in Amsterdam.

In the 1970s, the objectification of subjective experience by relating it to standardized measuring units became one of Brouwn’s main interests. He developed, for example, typewritten forms for registering the number of footsteps made in several different cities of the world. And he invented the “Stanley Brouwn foot“ with a length of the 26 cm, which equals the length of the artist’s foot, as well as the “Brouwn cubit” or the “Brouwn step.”

Stanley Brouwn: afghanistan – zambia, 1971, artist book, Gegenverkehr e.V. Zentrum für aktuelle Kunst, Aachen, 14 × 21 cm. Courtesy: Archiv Marzona, Berlin.

An important part of Stanley Brouwn’s practice is his withdrawal from the public. Only very few portrait photos of him exist, hardly any interviews and quotes of Brouwn have been published, and already at an early stage, he even withdrew from attending the openings of his own exhibitions. But he was present in his works during the following years; his quasi-bureaucratic approaches to problems of spatial experience or the reflections about standardization were shown at Documenta 5 (1972), Documenta 6 (1977), Documenta 7 (1982), the Venice Biennale (1982) and Documenta11 (2002) in Kassel in Germany.

Portrait of Stanley Brouwn from 1964

Brouwn was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg for a couple of years – John Bock and Andreas Slominski were amongst his students, but rumour has it that he never talked about his own works in class. Attracting any public attention was not his cup of tea anyhow. It might be worth mentioning that he certainly never commented on the fact that he dealt with conceptual approaches to art long before Sol LeWitt published his famous “Paragraphs” in 1969. The artist Stanley Brouwn started to vanish from the public eye already during his early years. Eventually, he disappeared almost completely. Thus, his death on 28th May 2017 was only briefly mentioned and rarely commented publicly. And even the Duesseldorf (and Berlin nowadays) based gallery Konrad Fischer that Brouwn had worked with for decades, does not seem to be fully able to accept the death of Stanley Brouwn. On the artist’s page on the gallery’s website, one can learn: Stanley Brouwn, 1935, born in Paramaribo, Suriname, lives and works in Amsterdam.