John O'Brian completed his PhD in art history at Harvard under the supervision of TJ Clark and in 1987 joined the University of British Columbia, where he is Professor of Art History and a Faculty Associate of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. He publishes on modern art history and criticism, and is the author, co-author or editor of eighteen books and more than sixty articles. His current research is on nuclear photography in North America and Japan. He has organized four exhibitions on the subject, two of which, Strangelove’s Weegee (2013) and Camera Atomica (2015), were accompanied by catalogues. A related book, Atomic Postcards: Radioactive Messages from the Cold War, co-authored with Jeremy Borsos, was published in 2011.
His other books include: Beyond Wilderness (2007), edited with Peter White; Ruthless Hedonism: The American Reception of Matisse (1999); Voices of Fire: Art, Rage, Power, and the State (1996), co-edited with Bruce Barber and Serge Guilbaut; The Flat Side of the Landscape (1989); Degas to Matisse (1988); and David Milne and the Modern Tradition of Painting (1983). He is also the editor of the four-volume edition of Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism (1986 and 1993). The volumes were named to The New York Times list of "best" books of the year, and have received hundreds of scholarly citations.
He has lectured in North America as well as in Europe, Israel, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, India, Palestine, China and Japan. He was the Shastri Visiting Professor in India in 1997 and Visiting Research Professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan in 2007. From 2008-2011, he was the Brenda and David McLean Chair of Canadian Studies at the University of British Columbia. Approximately half his research and teaching is related to Canadian art and culture. Beyond his academic responsibilities, he has been involved with the Harvard University Art Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Presentation House Gallery, and the Belkin Art Gallery.
In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2011, he received the Thakore Award in Human Rights and Peace Studies from Simon Fraser University and an honorary doctorate from Trinity College at the University of Toronto. In 2016, he was inducted into the University of Toronto Sports Hall of Fame.
Additional biography: Canadian Who’s Who