Museum Without Walls: A Studio Visit with Todd T. Brown

In continuation of our series Museum Without Walls, we visited Todd T. Brown’s studio as he prepares for his final exhibition as an Artist Fellow at the de Young. Inheritance and Dreams will be on display in the Kimball Education Gallery February 1–12.

Todd T. Brown

During his year as an inaugural Artist Fellow, Brown produced a new body of mixed-media work and a performance project called Teobi’s Dreaming; he curated a series of performances exploring the idea of identity; and he initiated a new infrastructure for artist-led projects called “Investing in the Creative Hunch” (or The ITCH).

Surrounded by Brown’s as of yet unfinished paintings, we discussed new directions in his work and how the Artist Fellows experience informed his concept of inheritance and dreams.


On Inheritance and Dreams

When I talk about inheritance, I’m thinking about the total inheritance that we’re born into–from the global reality, to the country you’re born into, to the community you’re born into, to the family you’re born into–and all of the richness, struggle and brutality that’s a part of that shared experience. In the September exhibit, Inheritance, I was very much dealing with the juxtaposition of the personal narrative against the backdrop of that collective history.

Slanted view

Now, with Inheritance and Dreams, I am thinking of the dreaming power, or the capacity to see. To dream is to have this clear vision that you move toward, as if it’s already real. And through that vision, you begin to transform the world around you. So, we have this enormous, complex and conflicted inheritance that we’re born into, but this dreaming power represents our capacity to transform it or to integrate it.

On Invisible Passage and new directions

Invisible Passage is essentially the blueprint of a slave ship, on top of which is layered alternating black and white stripes, a red and white banner, and hand-written script. When you think of the process of building up a painting, the under painting is not gone, it’s there, it’s always underneath. History is layered like that.


In this country, we’re so focused on the next trend that many parts of our history are swept under the rug or forgotten. As an immigrant coming to America, the expectation is for you to assimilate, to check your history at the door. I believe that, in trying to understand ourselves personally, we have to face the wholeness of our history.

So I have introduced this kind of very gestural handwritten script that is representative of my personal narrative. I write questions that I’m asking myself, as well as questions that I ask of my ancestry. It became clear that my work had become about these two things meeting each other–the personal narrative or personal story and the collective history that we inherit–and figuring out how to come to terms with those two things and how to be fully present and accountable to both.

TB In Studio

On Artist Fellows and the de Young

The Artist Fellows program at the de Young is a really positive change that’s happening in the museum. The idea of shifting away from being a repository to also being a space of context is really important. I feel that the de Young has done a great job engaging a really diverse group of rotating artists who bring eclecticism to the museum. Certainly, that is what has happened at the de Young during the first year of Artist Fellows, with communities coming in from Hunters Point and the Mission–the physical body of the museum can be such a point of convergence if it’s used that way.

Artist Fellows

Brown’s exploration into the duality of identity has spanned the farthest reaches of the global human experience to the microscopically intimate biology of our innermost selves. Hear the artist talk about the biology of our identity in the video interview below.

Tomorrow, join Todd Brown in conversation with Caleb Duarte as they discuss the critical role of international artist residencies in the context of globalization. This special presentation, entitled Where the United Nations Used to Be , will take place in Koret Auditorium from 2:00–3:00 p.m

Inheritance and Dreams will be on view in the Kimball Education Gallery February 1–12, Tuesdays–Sundays from 1:00–5:00 p.m. A reception in honor of the artist will take place on Saturday, February 4 from 3:00–5:00 p.m. in the Kimball Education Gallery. All events are free.