In the early years of the post-war period, the American art scene was marked by the appearance of a new generation of artists willing to connect and continue the experimental yearnings of the older generation active before the WW II. One of the most prolific practitioners who changed the painterly paradigm by introducing a bold and quite radical approach was Jasper Johns.
By challenging the Art for art's sake motto proposed by Abstract Expressionism as the dominating phenomenon at the time, Johns created a visually powerful body of work that interrogated the semantics of the image, as well as its social and political implications. Throughout the years, he produced interdisciplinary works on the verge of painting and sculpture, image and object that have inspired several generations of younger artists.
To meet and greet his lasting practice, and analyze specific series of phases the artist has passed through, The Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Whitney Museum of American Art decided to jointly organize a grand retrospective to date titled Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror.
The exhibition will consist of nearly five hundred works including Jasper Johns’s most celebrated masterpieces as well as an array of rarely known works that have never been exhibited publicly. In joined efforts the curators Carlos Basualdo (The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the PMA) and Scott Rothkopf (Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator at the Whitney) tend to revisit the artist’s impressive oeuvre in a loose chronological order from the 1950s to the present on the grounds of the principles of mirroring and doubling that dominate Johns’ work. In a brief statement given for the media, Basualdo emphasized their position:
We attempted to create an exhibition that echoes the logic of Johns’s work, and it is structured in a mimetic relation to his practice. Galleries at each venue will serve as cognates, echoes, and inversions of their counterparts at the other, allowing viewers to witness and experience the relationships between continuity and change, fragment and whole, singularity and repetition which Johns has used throughout his career to renew and transform his work.
The installment will offer the visitors a unique chance to experience not only Johns’s most iconic paintings and sculptures but also his works on paper made in the past fifty years. Separate galleries in both venues will be designed to underline different aspects of the artist’s methodology, as well as the dominant themes, processes, and mediums.
For instance, one pair of galleries will feature the influence specific places and communities had on Johns’s art (his formative years in Japan and the time spent in South Carolina during childhood and a young adulthood), while the others will function as reenactments of exhibitions Johns staged at the Leo Castelli gallery in 1960 and 1968 (to underline the artist’s epic use of found motifs).
To be more specific, The Whitney part of the installation will consist of more than two hundred and fifty objects loaned from American and international public and private collections, with fifty works coming from the artist’s own collection. Throughout eleven galleries the artist’s development will be emphasized; one of them will be focused on his early Flags and Maps series where visitors will be able to see prolific examples such as White Flag (1955), Flag on Orange Field (1957), and Flags (1965). Interestingly so, Johns's three monumental Map paintings from the early 1960s will be reunited for the first time in more than two decades.
On display will also be a selection of fifteen large-scale Savarin monotypes unraveling Johns’s authentic approach to printmaking in a separate gallery, while his recent sculptures bathed in natural light will be shown in yet another gallery. Among the highlights will be the following loans - the pivotal According to What (1964), Device (1961-62); and Montez Singing, 1989 (private collection), a fine example of the artist's 1980s style.
To establish a firm connection between the two venues, a landmark sculpture by Jasper Johns of two Ballantine ale cans titled Painted Bronze (1960), will be featured at the Whitney and the PMA.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s display will spread also across eleven rooms and it will include also two hundred and fifty works. The opening work will be Flag (1954–55), Johns’s earliest painting from the series and the iconic work of the second half of the 20th century made by American artist; this piece will be followed by other groundbreaking early works such as Painting with Two Balls (1960), Fool’s House (1961-62), and Device (1962). The next gallery will be thematically focused on Johns’s fascination with the numbers (motif that he explored throughout his career) with four large-scale paintings made between 1960 and 1961, as well as photographs by the Italian artist Ugo Mulas of Johns’s masterful drawing 0 through 9, and the set of color lithographs made by the artist in 1969.
The painting Untitled (1972), Johns’s key work, will take over an entire gallery, while another one will be devoted to Johns’s relationship with Japan and the Japanese culture dating from his Army service there in 1953 and enhanced with the return visits in 1964 and 1966; on display will be works such as Watchman (1964), and the two existing versions of Souvenir and Souvenir 2, both of 1964, and the works by Japanese artists from Johns’s collection.
Another gallery in Philadelphia will feature working proofs related to the print Untitled (Red, Yellow, Blue), and another Untitled print, both from the 1990s, illustrating the artist’s never-ending experimentation. Johns’s more recent and equally outstanding 5 Postcards (2011), and Untitled (2018), that is based on a photograph of a soldier, Lance Corporal James Farley (taken during the Vietnam War by LIFE photographer Larry Burrows), will be exhibited alongside several recent drawings and paintings that have never been exhibited before. The last PMA gallery will include a large selection of Johns’s prints installed according to the strategies developed by John Cage in his celebrated exhibition Rolywholyover A Circus that served as an homage to the close friendship between the artist and the musician.
After the description of both parts of the installation, it seems that this double framework tends to question the traditional format of the retrospective by providing an alternative model for interpretation of Jasper Johns’s life and work.
A single publication consisting of more than three hundred pages and six hundred illustrations will further respond to retrospective’s dual structure and will be co-published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. It will include introductory texts by the curators as well as comprehensive essays written by a diverse group of sixteen authors coming from different disciplines.
Featured image: Jasper Johns - Racing Thoughts, 1983. Encaustic, screenprint, and wax crayon on collaged cotton and linen, 48 1/16 × 75 3/16 in. (122.1 × 191 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Burroughs Wellcome Purchase Fund; Leo Castelli; the Wilfred P. and Rose J. Cohen Purchase Fund; the Julia B. Engel Purchase Fund; the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States Purchase Fund; The Sondra and Charles Gilman, Jr. Foundation, Inc.; S. Sidney Kahn; The Lauder Foundation, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Fund; the Sara Roby Foundation; and the Painting and Sculpture Committee 84.6 © Jasper Johns / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.