The show opens with False Start (highly colored) next to Jubilee (roughly the same but in grays). In Memory of My Feelings, which takes as its title a poem by Frank O’Hara, broods on the work of Hart Crane. Both poets died untimely deaths: O’Hara in a freak accident on Fire Island and Crane as a suicide jumping into the sea. The pictures accordingly are elegiac, conflating death, art, eros, and water. Near the Lagoon is made of salvaged fragments and layers of unpigmented wax; it invokes Manet’s Execution of Maximilian as an ellipse is transformed, in a series of elegant permutations, until it evokes a noose and a shroud. Fool’s House comically deflates the rarefied notion of the artist by showing an actual broom making a broad sweep as if it were a paintbrush.
Johns is an admirable artist and it is wonderful to contemplate his devotion to craft, as well as his stamina. The show is accompanied by an excellent catalogue that collects essays on Johns’s work. Especially worthwhile is one by James Rondeau who examines Johns’s “production of meaning.”
The exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit the Met’s Web site to see more at www.metmuseum.org. “Jasper Johns: Gray” was on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from Nov. 3, 2007 through Jan. 6.
Image above: Jasper Johns, Fool’s House (1962, oil on canvas with objects, 72×36)
Collection of Jean-Christophe Castelli, on loan to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
© Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Jamie M. Stukenberg / Professional Graphics Inc., Rockford, Illinois.