Monday, February 05, 2007

Jasper Johns

If you're in the DC metroplex do yourself a favor and go see the Jasper Johns' exhibit. Ann, Ashelely and I went yesterday. It's great stuff. I'll try to write more about the exhibit, and would be happy to respond to any emails about it, ie more personal than this. But for me, it's rare that I see an exhibit that makes me chuckle let alone laugh out loud. This exhibit was fantastic, pulling together a bunch of pieces from Johns first 10 years. They focused a lot on his target works, his colors (yellow, red and blue) his devices, and his fascination with mapping and depicting the body. But as you walk through the exhibit you watch Johns begin to deconstruct his own work, and tease himself. After doing numerous targets and no doubt hearing people explain that they could do that, or when would he expand his vision, Johns assembled a DIY kit. The piece was a line drawing of his iconic target, and a set of three small Crayola style paint cups -- red, yellow, blue. It's like he was saying, fine if you think you can do this, please do. He's taking modern art and making it a coloring book, but without a touch of anger, arrogance and condescension. He even has a line on the painting where he's signed the painting and includes a space for his "collaborator" to sign the work.

I burst out laughing when I saw it. It's a perfect work of modern art. It's clearly an example of art as a series of choices. It's not that I couldn't do what he does. I can -- and he is encouraging that thought, if not that action. It's that I wouldn't have thought to make the target, let alone to deconstuct the art to the point where I divorced myself from the making of the art. In a New Yorker article a month or so ago, Johns was interviewed and explained that he views all art as a collaboration between the creator and the artist. It's a fairly well travelled idea, that art is about the interface between creation and observation, experience. But with Johns he's intentionally leaving the artwork unfinished (though you could make a pretty strong argument that the artwork is only finished when left uncompleted by his collaborator -- allowing any person a chance to envision what it would be like to work with and on a painting by a famous artist). By gently mocking the assertion that anyone can make modern art Johns is honoring his vision of art as collaboration. Johns work invites you to feel a part of it. It's art as conversation. When I walked through the rooms, I was filled with questions. I regressed to the age when an entire discussion could be conducted using the question "Why?" You remember those days, when you'd ask your parents a question and just keep lobbing "why" out there like an accusation of insufficient information. I don't want art to teach me through an entirely external voice and point of view. I want, and believe great art, can help me come to these conclusions on my own, and with my own additions to the work. Is it possible that I am giving Johns credit for ideas that he never conceived while painting these works? Of course, but art is collaboration, and together Johns and I came to these conclusions. I have to believe that your collaboration with Johns will yield different results. It sounds overly post modern and relativistic and entirely too soft, but I like to think of it a little like all those rap records where a couple of artists work together. You have to believe that Jay-Z featuring Pharell will be a functionally different work of art than Jay-Z featuring Missy Elliot. So it is with visual art.

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