The retrospective of the works of Jasper Johns has been garnering much critical acclaim. Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror looks at the last seventy years of the 91-year-old artists’ seventy year career.
Jasper Johns‘ body of work is so vast that the retrospective is being held simultaneously at both the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Deciding which of the thousands of prints, drawings and paintings that would be chosen for the two venues was the job of Senior Deputy Director, Scott Rothkopf, at the Whiney and Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, Carlos Basulado, in Philadelphia.
In a recent interview with The Brooklyn Rail, the curators discussed, not only their choices of works for the exhibit, but the difficulties they had deciding when not to include a great work.
“It pains me to think of the small silver flag that ordinarily hangs in Jasper’s dining room that I was desperate to show but in the end decided just didn’t quite work in that room of Flags and Maps.” Rothkopf said, “Or there was a little green target drawing, also from his collection, that made the final cut, but not the final final cut, and not for any lack of merit on the part of the work. It was just a sense of how we wanted to space things.”
The curators worked with Johns, visited his studio and even included recent works in the show. They said that although he had a few comments and questions, and made himself available to them, he gave them total freedom to display his work as they wished. “He seemed curious to understand what this next generation of curators might do with his work.” Rothkopf said.
One of the most interesting things about Johns’ work, and his prints in particular, is that he modifies each print so that it is unique.
“I think that there’s a clear and strong ethics in the way in which he conducts himself,” Basualdo said, “a deep respect for the viewer that is just in everything he says and everything he does, and it’s fully, deeply reflected in the work.”
Jasper Johns’ thoughtful approach to his work, his quiet, calm persona, is reflected in each of his pieces. In a 2005 interview, Johns said, “Most of us have an underlying sense of helplessness, a necessity to make what we call artwork. Many have the odd sensation of being called upon to do it.”
“I feel a lot about his personality comes through in this incredible sense of devotion to the work, the care, the craft, the hard work of it, the attention, and to some degree the shutting out of other things in life or in the world in order to make this remarkable art.” Rothkopf said, “It’s almost overwhelming sometimes when I go through the show, knowing that I’m only looking at half of it and the other half is sitting there at the exact same time in Philadelphia. The idea that this artist gave so much to his work which in turn gives so much to us is really a very beautiful thought.”
Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror will continue to be on exhibit at both the Whitney and the Philadelphia Museum of Art through February 13, 2022.
Richard Shiff. On Jasper Johns.The Brooklyn Rail.Art/In Conversation. December 21-January 22, 2022