Jasper Johns at Matthew Marks

The thing about Jasper Johns that is often overlooked is that his art has become part of the DNA of the Art World. Some might argue that this happened in a Big Bang fashion in the late fifties when his art burst on the scene. It was then that the rather commonplace motifs of Johns’ flags and targets, and later light bulbs and maps, offered a wasabi-like palette cleanser to the sturm and drang of abstract expressionism. But I contend that DNA mutation doesn’t happen overnight but rather through decades and generations of careful manipulation, splicing and metamorphosis.

This gradual and diligent metamorphosis is handsomely in evidence at Matthew Marks’ twin galleries in Los Angeles. The exhibition includes paintings, bronze sculptures, drawings, monotypes and all manner of prints. And as with most Johns exhibitions, the selection offers new twists on well honed iconography while introducing new motifs folded into a Johnsiasn  soufflé which rises ever higher with repeated viewings.

Jasper Johns, Numbers (0-9) 10, 2011, Bronze
19 3/8 x 37 1/2 x 1 inches; 49 x 95 x 3 cm
Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

The primary exhibition space houses thirteen bronze reliefs, twelve modest in scale at 19 x 37 inches and one herculean at 107 by 83 inches. The bronze motif are numbers presented either in a two rows of five presentation or a 10 x 10 numbers grid. The numbers are a recapitulation of one of Johns’ oldest iconography. Through the use of bronze they are fresh not only in approach but execution. Delicate improvisational brushstrokes and collage-like composition in their original wax form give the bronze execution uncommon life and verve. And while the ten modest scale works repeat the pattern with the numbers, execution is never repeated. Images of a foot print or keys interrupt the 2/5 metered rhythm.

Jasper Johns, 5 Postcards, 2011
(Five Canvas Work)
Encaustic on canvas, Oil on Canvas, Oil on Canvas, Oil and Pencil on Canvas and Encaustic on Canvas respectively
36 x 27 inches; 91 x 69 cm each panel
Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

A colorful five part painting, titled 5 Postcards, dialogues with the largely monochromatic bronzes in the room. Also light and airy, the paintings harness the silhouetted figure iconography first introduced in the Seasons (1986). The figures, both of the child and the adult, fade in and out of clarity here. And while the child appears in all five, the adult vanishes completely in panels 4 and 5. The Ladder, a referential quote from a Picasso painting also reappears. Broken in Panel 2 and vertically plumb in panels 1, 3 and 4, the ladder leans ever so slightly to the left in the final painting. The image of a ceremonial vase bearing the likenesses of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in optical illusionary silhouette also is used but this time tilts precariously. A short hand rainbow of dots grace the bottom of each panel. Circles defined in panels #1 and 5 are smudged and drippy in #2, 3 and 4. Could this possibly be a off hand reference to Damien Hirst? No wait the rainbow is inverted from Panel 1 to Panel 5.

And so it goes. Discovery after epiphany after insight after reveal. Scanning five paintings in search of order, pattern, repetition, inversion and variation is an uncommon visual calisthenic. The paintings and bronzes are generous in direct proportion to the generosity of time spent with them.

Jasper Johns, Untitled, 2012, Watercolor and crayon monotype, 42 x 28 3/4 inches; 107 x 73 cm
Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

The Watercolors on crayon monotypes in an ante room luxuriate with color and texture. They play with the same motifs found in 5 Postcards, albeit to a less sonorous, more buoyant effect.

Finally the embarrassment of riches to be gleaned from the second gallery, filled, but not over filled with prints from 2001 through 2012 does leave one speechless. Aforementioned motifs are mixed and matched. Scale increases on some iconography creating figure/ground reversals. Small intaglios, no more than 4 x 6 inches, seem operatic while a 30 x 40 inch can seem intimate. Like going to a baseball game, one wants to keep a box score of every Johns work, in every medium, in every inning of his career.  Trace the trajectory of a brushstroke like a curve ball high and inside. Figure out the ERA stat of certain repeated motifs. And always, always go to another game.

Matthew Marks Gallery-Los Angeles

Jasper Johns Numbers, 0-9, and 5 Postcards–1062 North Orange Grove, Los Angeles

Jasper Johns Recent Prints–7818 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles

Both through January 5th, 2013

-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, November 2nd, 2012




also by Mario M. Muller

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