The influence of Jasper Johns
The curator of a Gallery 2 exhibition offers viewpoint
Jasper Johns’ extensive body of work, while not overtly political, has been interpreted as quietly so. It has been seen to manifest coded pronouncements about sexual identity through consistent investigations and representations of the body, uses of language, and humor. Among the myriad of interpretations of Johns’ work, a political or activist analysis is possible, but this has, at times, been overlooked in favor of an aesthetic or populist analysis that disregards any inherent political message.
The notion of Johns’ work as a site capable of producing multiple nterpretations was one of the most exciting points of departure for myself and fellow SAIC raduate student Lauren Grundhofer as we conceptualized the exhibition Targeting Johns: The Infl uence of Jasper Johns in Contemporary Art Practice, which opens November 2 at Gallery 2.
Just as critical scholarship presents various narratives about works of art, we wanted our exhibition to act as a counterpoint and engage in dialogue with the concurrent exhibition Jasper Johns: Gray, at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Johns is a primary member of the western modernist art historical canon; we see his iconic works abundantly appearing in survey courses in universities and on display in museums and galleries.
Johns’ legacy also manifests itself in the work of contemporary artists, specifi cally our colleagues at SAIC and in the Chicago community. Consciously or unconsciously, artists are working with ideas, materials, and techniques aligned with Johns’ oeuvre.
Targeting Johns distills broad themes addressed in Johns’ work: problems of language, medium as object, use of literary devices in art, coded sexuality and issues of originality. Many works in the Gallery 2 exhibition engage these themes in ways that address contemporary at a venue like Gallery 2 provided opportunities to transfer Johns’ work from art history contexts such as books, lectures, and museums, and place it in a contemporary context with fewer barriers to engagement with politics, social issues, and diverse communities.
Even for artists working with methods and concepts pioneered by Johns, the direct ties between the history of art and contemporary practice are often hidden by the immediate demands of artistic agency. As curators we intend to highlight those connections, not only between Johns’ practices and contemporary artistic practices, but between SAIC and the Art Institute itself, and between students and the history of art. Through this exhibition we hope to foster multiple readings of the exhibited work, resisting the limiting and neutralizing nature of discrete categorization.
Targeting Johns: The Influence of Jasper Johns in Contemporary Art Practice, Gallery 2, level 2, 847 W. Jackson Blvd., West Loop, Chicago, November 2 to November 21, 2007
Opening reception: Friday, November 2, 5:00 – 8:00 pm.
Jasper Johns: Gray, Art Institute of Chicago,
111 S Michigan Ave., Chicago.