7/30/09

Jasper Johns

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Jasper Johns, Jr. (born May 15, 1930 in Augusta, Georgia) is an American contemporary artist who works primarily in painting and printmaking. He is represented by the Matthew Marks Gallery.
He is best known for his painting Flag (1954-55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag. His work is often described as a Neo-Dadaist, as opposed to pop art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture. Still, many compilations on pop art include Jasper Johns as a pop artist because of his artistic use of classical iconography.



Early works were composed using simple schema such as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers. Johns' treatment of the surface is often lush and painterly; he is famous for incorporating such media as encaustic (wax-based paint), and plaster relief in his paintings. Johns played with and presented opposites, contradictions, paradoxes, and ironies, much like Marcel Duchamp (who was associated with the Dada movement). Johns also produces intaglio prints, sculptures and lithographs with similar motifs.



Johns' breakthrough move, which was to inform much later work by others, was to appropriate popular iconography for painting, thus allowing a set of familiar associations to answer the need for subject. Though the Abstract Expressionists disdained subject matter, it could be argued that in the end, they had simply changed subjects. Johns neutralized the subject, so that something like a pure painted surface could declare itself. For twenty years after Johns painted Flag, the surface could suffice - for example, in Andy Warhol's silkscreens, or in Robert Irwin's illuminated ambient works.



Abstract Expressionist figures like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning ascribed to the concept of a macho "artist hero", and their paintings are indexical in that they stand effectively as a signature on canvas. In contrast, Neo-Dadaists like Johns and Rauschenberg seemed preoccupied with a lessening of the reliance of their art on indexical qualities, seeking instead to create meaning solely through the use of conventional symbols. Some have interpreted this as a rejection of the hallowed individualism of the Abstract Expressionists. Their works also imply symbols existing outside of any referential context. Johns' Flag, for instance, is primarily a visual object, divorced from its symbolic connotations and reduced to something in-itself.



In 1998, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought Johns' White Flag. While the Met would not disclose how much was paid, "experts estimate [the painting's] value at more than $20 million." In 2006, private collectors Anne and Kenneth Griffin (founder of the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel Investment Group) bought Johns' False Start for $80 million, making it the most expensive painting by a living artist.



The National Gallery of Art acquired about 1,700 of Johns' proofs in 2007. This made the Gallery home to the largest number of Johns' works held by a single institution. The exhibition showed works from many points in Johns' career, including recent proofs of his prints.

In spring 2008, a ten-year retrospective of Johns' drawings was mounted at New York City's Matthew Marks Gallery.