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Johns took the mundane and made it sublime. Those objects and concepts we take for granted and created art out them that was vibrant and energetic. He opened the doors for others that followed bringing a new sensibility to modern art.
Jasper Johns, Jr. (born May 15, 1930) is an American contemporary artist who works primarily in painting and printmaking. Born in Augusta, Georgia, Jasper Johns spent his early life in Allendale, South Carolina with his paternal grandparents after his parents’ marriage failed. He then spent a year living with his mother in Columbia, South Carolina and thereafter he spent several years living with his aunt Gladys in Lake Murray, South Carolina, twenty-two miles from Columbia. He completed high school in Sumter, South Carolina, where he once again lived with his mother. Recounting this period in his life, he says, “In the place where I was a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn’t know what that meant. I think I thought it meant that I would be in a situation different than the one that I was in.” He began drawing when he was three and has continued doing art ever since.
Johns studied at the University of South Carolina from 1947 to 1948, a total of three semesters. He then moved to New York City and studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design in 1949. In 1952 and 1953 he was stationed in Sendai, Japan during the Korean War.
In 1954, after returning to New York, Johns met Robert Rauschenberg and they became long term lovers. In the same period he was strongly influenced by the gay couple Merce Cunningham (a choreographer) and John Cage (a composer).Working together they explored the contemporary art scene, and began developing their ideas on art. In 1958, gallery owner Leo Castelli discovered Johns while visiting Rauschenberg‘s studio. Castelli gave him his first solo show. It was here that Alfred Barr, the founding director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, purchased four works from his exhibition. In 1963, Johns and Cage founded Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, now known as Foundation for Contemporary Arts in New York City. Johns currently lives in Sharon, Connecticut and the Island of Saint Martin. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984.
On February 15, 2011 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, becoming the first painter or sculptor to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom sinceAlexander Calder in 1977.
Johns is best known for his painting Flag (1954–55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag. His work is often described as a Neo-Dadaist, as opposed to pop art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture. Still, many compilations on pop art include Jasper Johns as a pop artist because of his artistic use of classical iconography.
Early works were composed using simple schema such as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers. Johns’ treatment of the surface is often lush and painterly; he is famous for incorporating such media as encaustic and plaster relief in his paintings. Johns played with and presented opposites, contradictions, paradoxes, and ironies, much like Marcel Duchamp(who was associated with the Dada movement). Johns also produces intaglio prints, sculptures and lithographs with similar motifs.
Johns’ breakthrough move, which was to inform much later work by others, was to appropriate popular iconography for painting, thus allowing a set of familiar associations to answer the need for subject. Though the Abstract Expressionists disdained subject matter, it could be argued that in the end, they had simply changed subjects. Johns neutralized the subject, so that something like a pure painted surface could declare itself. For twenty years after Johns painted Flag, the surface could suffice – for example, in Andy Warhol‘s silkscreens, or in Robert Irwin‘s illuminated ambient works.
Abstract Expressionist figures like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning subscribed to the concept of a macho “artist hero,” and their paintings are indexical in that they stand effectively as a signature on canvas. In contrast, Neo-Dadaists like Johns and Rauschenberg seemed preoccupied with a lessening of the reliance of their art on indexical qualities, seeking instead to create meaning solely through the use of conventional symbols. Some have interpreted this as a rejection of the hallowed individualism of the Abstract Expressionists. Their works also imply symbols existing outside of any referential context. Johns’ Flag, for instance, is primarily a visual object, divorced from its symbolic connotations and reduced to something in-itself.
In 1990, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. He is represented by the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York City, and in the spring 2008, a ten-year retrospective of Johns’ drawings was mounted there.
Collection and acquisition
In 1998, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought Johns’ White Flag. While the Met would not disclose how much was paid, “experts estimate [the painting's] value at more than $20 million.” In 2006, private collectors Anne and Kenneth Griffin (founder of the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel LLC) bought Johns’ False Start for $80 million, making it the most expensive painting by a living artist.
The National Gallery of Art acquired about 1,700 of Johns’ proofs in 2007. This made the Gallery home to the largest number of Johns’ works held by a single institution. The exhibition showed works from many points in Johns’ career, including recent proofs of his prints.
Since the 1980s, Johns produces paintings at four to five a year, sometimes not at all during a year. His large scale paintings are much favored by collectors and because of their rarity, it is known that Johns’ works are extremely difficult to acquire.
Skate’s Art Market Research (Skate Press, Ltd.), a New York based advisory firm servicing private and institutional investors in the art market, has ranked Jasper Johns as the 30th most valuable artist. The firm’s index of the 1,000 most valuable works of art sold at auction – Skate’s Top 1000 – contains 7 works by Johns.