press release

The Museum of Modern Art announces Jasper Johns: Regrets, an exhibition of new work by Jasper Johns (American, b. 1930). Having emerged as a leading voice in American art in the late-1950s with paintings of iconic motifs such as flags, targets, and numbers, Johns has since developed a body of work of extraordinary narrative complexity and technical virtuosity. This exhibition premieres the artist’s most recent body of work, developed over the last year and a half, and includes approximately 30 objects: two paintings, as well as drawings and prints. Jasper Johns: Regrets is organized by Christophe Cherix, The Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints, and Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, with Ingrid Langston, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, MoMA.

This series introduces a new addition to Johns’s personal iconography: the image of the young artist Lucian Freud perched on a bed, one arm raised to obscure his face in an introspective gesture. The photograph, part of a series taken around 1964 by the British photographer John Deakin, was commissioned and used by Francis Bacon as source material for his own paintings. Johns incorporated into his work not only the photograph of Freud (most often doubled by its mirrored image), but also the physical qualities of the original black-and-white print, which Bacon had extensively torn and creased in the course of his studio practice. A loss on the original photograph, for example, plays a prominent role in the composition throughout the series, creating a dominant dark form in the center foreground. Each of the two paintings is titled Regrets. This title is developed from a stamp that Johns had produced about five years ago, in order to swiftly decline the stream of requests and invitations that he frequently receives. Enlarged as a screen print, the words on the stamp appear in the top right corner of the two paintings, serving both as the artist’s signature and as the works’ titles.

The Regrets series takes the image of Freud through a succession of cross-medium permutations, including small pencil sketches, a set of four ink-on-plastic drawings, and two prints, each presented along with a variety of preliminary states. A large-scale watercolor, also titled Regrets, obscures the image nearly into abstraction, exploring the theme in yet another way. This series lays bare the importance of process and experimentation, the cycle of dead ends and fresh starts, and the incessant interplay of materials, meaning, and representation so characteristic of Johns’s career over the last 60 years.