press release

American painter Jasper Johns' now-iconic images of flags and targets of the late 1950s brought him critical acclaim and instant celebrity in the vigorous art scene of postwar America. Those images, depicted in an intentionally uninflected way, were radically different from the emotionally charged works of the Abstract Expressionists, and they offered a new way to think about the function and practice of art. In the 50 years since his first flag painting, Johns has continued to astonish viewers with the beauty and acumen of his work.

This Walker-organized exhibition of nearly 100 paintings, prints, and drawings explores his art of the past two decades--a period in which he has applied his virtuoso technique and incisive intelligence to a wide range of arresting new imagery, much of it intensely personal, melancholic, and even surreal.Johns was born in 1930 in Augusta, Georgia, and raised in South Carolina. He moved to New York in the eary 1950s and became friendly with a number of artists--notably Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham--who were inventing ways to introduce the experiences of daily life into their art, music, and dance works. Early on, Johns' images included what he called "things the mind already knows": commonly seen symbols such as the U.S. flag, alphabet letters, and numerals; household or studio objects such as paintbrushes, brooms, tableware, and clothes hangers; and "found" images that he encountered by chance and then incorporated into his work.

Personal content, while present, was often hidden within these impersonal images or buried beneath Johns' highly tactile painted surfaces. During the early 1980s his approach shifted, and viewers began to see a much more personal iconography in his work. There were depictions of things present in his studio or home, allusions to his childhood and souvenirs of his family, evocations of the spaces in which he lives and works, and quotations from artworks--his own and others'. He acknowledged this change in 1984: "In my early work I tried to hide my personality, my psychological state, my emotions. . . . I sort of stuck to my guns for a while, but eventually it seemed like a losing battle. Finally, one must simply drop the reserve." Past Things and Present: Jasper Johns since 1983 is an opportunity to study this recent material on its own.

The exhibition focuses on motifs introduced into the artist's work since 1983, and has at its core nearly all the prints made during the period, which are drawn from the Walker's complete archive of his graphic works. The balance of the show is comprised of paintings and drawings that expand the conversation around these motifs and weave in imagery familiar from his earlier work. Visitors will find several pieces based on the important 1983 canvas Ventriloquist, and Johns' Seasons will be represented by the beautiful encaustic painting Winter (1986) as well as numerous prints and drawings that treat the overall theme. His use of traced outlines of works by Holbein, Grünewald, and others is explored in a group of works that includes the encaustic-and-sand painting Green Angel (1990) from the Walker's collection. Johns' gorgeous monochromatic images from the so-called Catenary series of the late 1990s and early 2000s are represented, as well as several very recent works that incorporate the outlines of a painting by Manet. Pieces have been loaned from many important public and private collections--including Johns' own collection--and several of the works in the show have never before been publicly exhibited.


Past Things and Present: Jasper Johns since 1983

9.11.03 - 14.2.04 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
24.3.04 - 23.5.04 Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville / South Carolina
10.7.04 - 19.9.04 Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
7.10.04 - 2.1.05 IVAM Valencia
30.1.05 - 24.4.05 Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin