The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are hosting a rare joint exhibition through February 13, 2022. Mind/Mirror is Jasper Johns’ most extensive retrospective to date.
Curated by Scott Rothkopf in New York and Carlos Basualdo in Philadelphia, the two exhibitions display around 500 drawings, prints, paintings, and sculptures in total. Curated in chronological order, the exhibitions focus on different geographies that have inspired Johns’ art.
At the Whitney, his works reflecting upon his youth in South Carolina are on show. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, viewers may find that his bond with Japan, where he was deployed as a soldier during the Korean War, had an influence on his artworks.
Basualdo in Philadelphia stresses the unstable, fast pace meaning of Johns’ works, while Rothkopf presents their clarity. Both exhibitions focus on the theme of reversal and doubling, which is a long-standing fascination of Johns’.
The core of the Mind/Mirror exhibition can be captured through reflection, re-imagination, and distortion. Johns’ obsessive attraction to specific items are visible, as well as the different methods he employs to depict them. His artworks challenge viewers to take a second look at reality and observe how art changes with the emotional tides of mind.
Going back in history, in 1954, Johns deliberately destroyed all of his existing work. Johns wanted his art to be independent of any obligation. When asked about such a strident move, Johns simply said, “I was done with the spirit that I wanted to be an artist, not that I was an artist.”
Jasper Johns is one of the first painters to create artworks based on mundane things. He became an influence on Pop Art during the 1960s. By depicting a flag, Johns removed the artist’s subjective involvement in selecting color and shapes to communicate with viewers.
Johns explains the story behind his first remarkable American flag painting by saying; “One night I dreamed I painted a large American flag, and the next morning I got up, and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.”
The flag painting is made with encaustic paint, which allows the viewer to see the layers of newspaper beneath the layer of paint. Johns used this heavy splatter of wax, which formed chunks and splotches.
By incorporating sculptural components like rulers, wires, and tableware into his paintings, Johns shocked the artists of his time since his new approach broke the barrier between painting and sculpture. The rejection of one’s own identity, the quest for novelty, and the suppression of one’s inclinations are all difficult to depict, yet Johns achieved all these with his paintings.
The Whitney Museum of American Art welcomes the viewers with a massive wall showing 34 pieces: a mind map of Johns’ themes.
The “Disappearance and Negation” section on the exhibition’s left side darkens the entire mood. Here, Johns embraces the realistic representation of everyday objects and signs, such as flags, targets and numerals, and experiments with concepts such as concealing and hiding by using pale grey or thick black shades. These acts of vanishing and denial give Johns’ paintings a gloomy, icy look, full of loss, grief, and even heartache.
Mirroring the exhibition in New York, when turned to the right side, the exhibition in Philadelphia communicates to the visitors about cessation, denial, and introversion. The metal sculpture blocks, the poster-sized artworks, coagulated drawings, as well as the white and grey painted grids can all be seen here.
Holland Cutter sums up both of the shows and Jasper Johns’ career meticulously:
“I’ll stay with the impression I had, as I walked through the shows in Philadelphia and New York, that I was perusing a rigorous but passionate personal diary, a six-decade record of work, need, love, anger, renewal, sweat, fear, and resolve. It’s being recorded by an artist who, particularly over the past quarter-century, has, in his art, consistently mapped the psychological terrain of aging, and who, in his present work, takes the position of a deer standing in the path of oncoming headlights — distant at first, coming closer, almost here — and holds his ground and stares them down.” Holland Cutter, The New York Times.
Johns planted the seeds of a new century in which works can be purposefully ambiguous, imprecise, and linked to everyday objects while still keeping their serious intellectual and philosophical meaning.
Only a few painters have had as much influence on contemporary and modern art as Jasper Johns. With an oeuvre of striking works that have already inscribed themselves in the minds of the public, Jasper Johns, at 91, is still shaping the future of art.