Recently, The Art Newspaper published an article detailing a visit to artist Jasper Johns’ new art show titled, “Something Resembling Truth”. In this, Kenneth Baker, the writer of the article, brought along British artist Richard Wentworth to evaluate Johns’ show. While walking around the exhibit, Baker and Wentworth made note of, Flag (1954-55), Flag on Orange Field II (1958), and Target with Four Faces (1955). Wentworth found these to be the most exquisite and interesting works of art. Wentworth also made a comment about how people who see Johns’ art tend to become “so overcome by the work that they start to make Johns-ish things” (Baker). He argues that this is because many view Jasper John’s work as being aesthetically pleasing. Overall, Wentworth enjoyed Johns’ artwork and even made a comment about how he’d want to go to a thrift store with him, “Just to see what he would say” and to see what he would consider as art (Baker). In order to understand the importance of Richard Wentworth critiquing Jasper Johns’ work, one must delve deeper into who Wentworth is. He is well known for being a British sculpture and photographer. In his work, he portrays “objects and their use as part of our day-to-day experiences” (“Richard Wentworth”). His main objective is to shatter “the conventional system of classification” within the art world (“Richard Wentworth”). Typically his sculptures deal with the juxtaposition of different objects and tend to be ready-mades. Ready-made is a type of art, usually found in sculptures that takes a normal, everyday object and transforms it into art. During his New British Sculpture movement, Wentworth combined a small propeller with an everyday table in which he titled Shower (1984). The sculpture gives off the feeling as if it’s about to take flight. It’s tilted to the left and one of the front legs is lifted a few inches off the ground. There’s a square plate on the ground with a chain that is attached to the center of the table that suggests it (the table) is bolted to the ground. In this ready-made, Wentworth uses a small metallic propeller to contrast the medium-sized modern table. The title, Shower, alludes to “a memory of seeing tilted tables outside a café during a heavy shower in Spain” (“Richard Wentworth: Shower”). As for his photography, in Wentworth’s series Making Do and Getting By, he “documents the everyday, paying attention to objects, occasional and involuntary geometries as well as uncanny situations that often go unnoticed” (“Richard Wentworth”). Often, his photos depict objects that were stripped from their environment and placed in unusual environments. In one instance he taped a blanket to a car, for it to act as a rim for the tire. In another, he wedged a clothes hanger in between the windowsill to keep it shut. In general, Wentworth is known for his sculptures and photographs, and how he breaks the conventional ways of art. The art critic, Kenneth Baker, decided to have Wentworth accompany him to the show because he wanted to know Wentworth’s opinion on it. In Jasper Johns’ early life, he “engaged with the Dada movement and Abstract Expressionism in order to actively refute the hierarchy of modernism that reduced the aesthetic experience to the distinct material qualities of the medium and removed it from the viewer’s life” (“Jasper Johns”). Through his art he created a relationship between the viewer and the work of art, thus commencing a dialogue. Similar to Wentworth, he too broke down the traditional barriers of art. In doing this, he successfully laid down the laws for the Pop art movement. He also created the blueprint for the Conceptual art movement and the Postmodern movement. Overall, his art depicted a playful yet commercialized aesthetic. When Wentworth and Baker were walking through the exhibit, the first art piece that Wentworth mention was Flag. Wentworth was shocked that this well-known piece wasn’t front and center. He supposed that maybe Johns didn’t present it in the front because either he wanted it like that or the piece came in late (Baker). Painted in 1954-1955, Flag was Johns’ first considerable work in the Abstract Expressionist movement. In this piece, Johns recreated an everyday object, the American flag. He constructed the flag “from a dynamic surface made up of shreds of newspaper dipped in encaustic – with snippets of text still visible through the wax – rather than oil paint applied to the canvas with a brush” (“Jasper Johns”). He then applied visible brushstrokes to convey his artistic expression. At the time of this painting, the historical climate was running rampant with the notorious McCarthy witch-hunts. Depending on some viewer’s outlooks, Flag can either be read as national pride or a time of oppression. When I initially saw this painting in the Museum of Modern Art, I perceived it with its face value. I saw it as everything the United States stands for, including the good and the bad. To me, it represented highs and lows, times of freedom and prosperity, matched with exploitation and corruptness. Despite its initial simplicity, this piece of art really makes you take a deeper look into the world. In the next painting, Flag on Orange Field II, Wentworth found the color scheme to be peculiar. This painting conveys an orange background, with the American flag toward the top. Right away Wentworth’s gaze went straight to the orange when he said, “What a weird orange, on the edge of vulgarity, not that far away from neon” (Baker). In 1958, when the painting was made, many artists were using unordinary colors in their art. At the time, “All this work was being produced in that period of available sumptousity, colour and synthetics” (Baker). For this piece, Johns used encaustic on canvas and also used oil paint. Each stroke of orange is visible and gives almost a hasty look to it. The array of orange tends to get darker toward the flag and lighter, almost yellow-orange, as it moves away from the flag. Overall, I really like how the orange gives a level of shock to the painting. Normally, the color orange is never associated or even seen with the American flag; therefore, it gives an original look to it. For the last piece, Wentworth found Target with Four Faces to be intriguing. This piece depicted four faces, only showing the nose and mouth, and a blue and yellow target. In this, Wentworth liked the “tiny, repetitive inscriptions in a graphite study” which he claimed was a “major early relief painting” (Baker). This piece of art combined painting with sculpture. This type of art created the “merging of mediums reinforced in the three-dimensional object-ness of the paintings and was the Neo-Dada response to the recent progression of abstraction” (“Jasper Johns”). At the time when this art piece was created, which was in 1955, the Cold War was occurring. Therefore, Target with Four Faces can be perceived as a time where there was a target on everyone’s back. The four half faces can be read as everyone’s anonymity in the tense political climate. It almost looks like at any moment the lips of the four faces will move and talk to the viewer. Which aligns with the secrecy the Cold War created. To conclude, Jasper Johns is an American painter that aligns with Contemporary art in his use of a diverse art form. Overall I found it very interesting to read about Wentworth’s opinions on Johns’ work. Wentworth’s comments made me view Johns’ art in a different light. Prior to this news story, I’ve heard about Jasper Johns and seen his work in art museums. Yet, when I read another artists’ opinion on art that I already judged, it made me think about my judgments differently.
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