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Jasper Johns Exhibit Opens For Only U.S. Appearance

October 20, 1988

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A special exhibit of works by contemporary artist Jasper Johns that premiered in Italy last summer opens this weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for its only U.S. showing.

But the exhibit doesn’t focus on his familiar images of numbers, targets and American flags.

″Jasper Johns: Works Since 1974,″ which runs from Oct. 23 through Jan. 8, 1989, is a survey of Johns’ recent work. The exhibit moves from the ″crosshatch″ paintings of 1974, the artist’s first purely abstract canvases, to his more expressive personal imagery of the 1980s, culminating in the quartet of paintings known as ″The Seasons.″

The exhibition comprises 21 paintings in oil and encaustic, a process in which the color is suspended in hot wax to produce a vivid, soft surface. Also included in the exhibit are 10 drawings and watercolors and a book of prints created in collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett.

The exhibit was compiled by the museum’s 20th-century art curator Mark Rosenthal and Johns himself.

Rosenthal called it the first major exhibit of Johns’ most recent work and said the goal of the exhibit was to ″isolate″ the new work from the more familiar. The works come from the artist’s personal collection, the Tate Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, and the private collections of Philip Johnson, S.I. Newhouse Jr., Robert and Jane Meyerhoff.

The Johns exhibit won grand prize in June at the 43rd Venice Biennale exhibit. The Venetian competition, founded in 1895, is the oldest and most famous continuing international exhibition of contemporary art in the world. It is held every other year.

Susan Larsen, an art historian and curator of the Whitney’s permanent collection, called Johns an ″unqualified genius.″

″Johns is, above all, a philosopher-painter,″ Larsen said. She said Johns paintings show the clear demarcation from the realm of life and objects and the illusory world of painting.

Rosenthal said Johns ″astounded″ the New York art world in the 1950s because he painted subjects in a calculated way, rather than indulging in the emotional abstraction then popular.

″He paints with this incredible kind of care and juiciness,″ said Rosenthal. ″He played with people’s expectations.″

The exhibit in Philadelphia is grouped chronologically, following Johns’ movement from abstract to figures to shadows playing on symbols of death. The works use the art medium to comment on the creation of art over time, layering the medium with mirrors and images of the artist.

Born in Augusta, Ga., in 1930, Johns attended the University of South Carolina. After a two-year stint in the Army in Japan, Johns arrived in New York City in 1952, where he became friends with abstract artists Robert Rauschenberg, minimalist composer John Cage, Dadaist Marcelle Duchamp and Samuel Beckett.

In the 1950s, Johns produced a series of painting called the ″target″ paintings, in which he chose graphic images - a target, flag, or numeral - to reflect the very nature of those images as objects.

Johns extended into sculpture, creating a series of bronze and sculpmental works of beer cans, bulbs and flashlights. By the early 1960s, he had begun to blur the line between painting and sculpture, inserting objects into slits in the canvas and applying sculpmetal directly to the surface of the work.

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