Tuesday, January 8, 2013

And Jasper Johns Too ---Day 2/3

Walk: Trader Joe's, Mindful Body
Distance: 3 miles and teach yoga class

Concurrent with the DeFeo retrospective at SFMOMA (see Day 2-2) is a Jasper Johns retrospective.  DeFeo's show runs the gamut but contains most of her major oils and her seminal work, The Rose.  The Johns show on the other hand is comprised of mostly minor works owned by Bay Area collectors (eg, many multiples/prints) and a handful of encaustics and oils, one in the SFMOMA permanent collection and a few lent by the artist.

From the first time I was presented with Johns's rich, deep, enigmatic but riveting encaustic flags, targets and numbers, I was hooked.  This was at New York's MOMA somewhere in the late 60's or early 70's.  But going to our MoMA yesterday, I was perplexed because I wasn't all that stimulated or drawn in.

Don't know what that was about.  The absence of paintings for one.  His paintings are just so visceral, they take you beyond the intellectual aspects that are their reasons d'ĂȘtre according to the artist.  I guess.  For another thing, by now we/I've seen so many multiples/prints, particularly of the numbers, they'd lost a lot of their power to interest or amaze when I saw them again in this retrospective.

Much of the Johns show is wonderful because it is wonderful to see so much of Johns gathered together. But it doesn't enliven my early hook.  An edited quote from one reviewer might capture some of this distancing:

The central narrative of this excellent show — comprising some 90-plus works, some new and never before exhibited — is Johns' continuing inquiry into the relationship between what an artwork is as an object and what it depicts.

The first two galleries are dedicated to Johns' Numbers works, which bookend his nearly 60-year career. The numbers stand in for the other early works, the flag and target paintings that made him an immediate star in the late 1950s and announced the arrival of the post-Abstract Expressionist era....

The thing about numbers, of course, is the same about targets or flags. Namely, a painting of a flag is in fact a flag (distinct from how, say, a painting of a tree is not actually a tree). Letting this sink in and acknowledging that Johns is interested in the literal facts (pun intended here, too) of painting and sculpture helps frame how you encounter the rest of the works on display. From start to finish of the show, Johns' works slowly build in visual and textual intricacy, but tend to circle around this same main refrain.

Huh?  A painting of a flag is in fact a flag?  Guess that goes for a print of a flag too.  Do I care?  I just want to see a gorgeous painting!  Boo Hoo!

Jasper Johns' 0 through 9 (1960) and Bushbaby (2005)

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