His paintings are enigmatic, or are they? hermetic, sometimes didactic, not exactly pop art, nor even op-art, nor anti-art. Also enigmatically, they are regarded as some of the most influential works of the post WWII period. Success is the most obvious characteristic of John’s reputation, an emblem that anticipated and colored the consumer frenzy of New York art in the 1960′s. John’s very first show was sold out, and he was all but unanimously elected the historical alternative to the broad, slashing, romantic art of the abstract expressionists; with him, and Rauschenberg, the decade of the 1960′s was given its birth certificate. MOMA bought three canvases from John’s first show in 1958, an almost unheard of gesture to an unknown painter, and several other museums followed suit.If ever a reputation was launched by one swipe of the establishment’s hand, it was John’s.
This instant acceptance helped touch off the lunacies of pop ballyhoo. An avid public began looking for new Jaspers under every stone. To be seized as the paradigm of all-American success was a strange fate. Hilton Kramer said John’s flags, letter, targets etc. were a kind of Grandma Moses version of Dada. Whereas Dada sought to repudiate and criticize bourgeois values, Johns aimed to please and confirm the decadent periphery of bourgeois taste.
…Jasper Johns: “False Start”, 1959 – $80 million (2006) – This iconic work by Johns, sold by David Geffen (see Pollock’s ‘Number 5′ and Kooning’s ‘Woman’), is the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist …
It is an increasingly rancid, ruthless painterliness: John Coplans once said to me that there was not a gesture of Johns’ that was not full of contempt. But I think it is the angry indifference (and pessimism) of Duchamp, which Johns celebrated as “hilarious” — ironic comedy: Duchamp plus gesturalism — intellectualism plus impulsiveness (Idea Art plus Abstract Expressionism) — is the formula of Johns’ art. But it is an intellectualism that is past its prime, an impulsiveness that has become shopworn and overfamiliar: both are propped up by a kind of calculated rage, which mocks their avant-garde orthodoxy even as it submits to it. Johns is unable to rise to the sardonic heights of Duchamp or plunge into The Deep as Pollock does (to refer to one of his last paintings) — he cannot achieve ironical emptiness or give himself up to intoxicating “primary process” — because he is their epigone. They made the revolution; he didn’t. He’s a frustrated camp follower, not an outrageous original — a decadent consolidator rather than a visionary. Johns’ gray is a ratification and reification of Duchamp’s negativism and Johns’ painterliness is Abstract Expressionism reduced to cynical absurdity. Johns can’t help being inauthentic: The true modernist faith had already been revealed, and all he could do was to dogmatize it into gospel and ritual.Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit2-12-08.aspa
Is Johns a good avant-garde conformist, his gray evocative of the “man in the gray flannel suit,” his American contemporary? Modernism was no longer a terra incognita of art when Johns entered its ranks, but an established phenomenon, if still a little risqué, at least in the United States. If art hangs like a cross around the necks of Duchamp and Pollock, signaling that they are blessed by it — even if they mortified it on a cross of their own making — then art hangs around Johns’ neck like the albatross that hung around the Ancient Mariner’s neck, signaling he is cursed by it. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit2-12-08.aspa