Jasper Johns’s groundbreaking work sent shock waves through the art world when it was first shown in the late 1950s, and he has continued to challenge new audiences—and himself—over a career spanning more than sixty-five years. He was born in 1930 in Augusta, Georgia; spent the majority of his adult life in New York; and today lives in Sharon, Connecticut, where, at the age of ninety-one, he remains active in his studio.
Johns’s early use of common objects and motifs, language, and inventive materials and formats upended conventional notions of what an artwork is and can be. His profoundly generative practice helped spark movements including Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, among others, and has inspired successive generations of artists to this day.
Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror is the most comprehensive retrospective ever devoted to Johns’s art. Featuring his most iconic works along with many others shown for the first time, it comprises a broad range of paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures from 1954 to today across two sites.
Conceived as a whole but displayed in two distinct parts, the exhibition appears simultaneously here at the Whitney and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, two institutions with which Johns has had long-standing relationships. This unique dual structure draws on the artist’s lifelong fascination with mirroring and doubles, so that each half of the exhibition echoes and reflects the other.
Organized in largely chronological order, the retrospective presents pairs of related galleries—one in each city—that offer varied perspectives on the artist’s turns of mind. Individually, each gallery focuses on a particular aspect of Johns’s thought and work through the lens of different themes, processes, images, mediums, and even emotional states. Taken together, they provide an immersive exploration of the many phases, treasures, and mysteries of a radical, enduring, and still-evolving career.
Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces
Jasper Johns, Alley Oop
Jasper Johns, Map
Jasper Johns, Flags
Jasper Johns, Three Flags
Flags and Maps
In 1954, Jasper Johns dreamed he painted an American flag, and the next day he set out to do so. This radical intuitive act inaugurated a way of working that has continued throughout his career: the direct transposition of common images and signs onto the surface of his art. His early motifs included not only flags but also maps, targets, alphabets, and numbers, what he described as “things the mind already knows.” Johns’s subjects shocked viewers, who found them more like everyday things than works of art at a time when abstraction predominated in New York galleries.
Yet Johns’s deadpan approach opened onto a deep exploration of the philosophical boundaries between art and object, as well as representation and reality, since a painting of a flag or target could be seen both as the depiction of something and as the thing itself.
This gallery stages a face-off between Johns’s early flags and maps in black-and- white and those in color. From 1955 to 1970, he treated both these motifs across a range of mediums, palettes, and sizes, with a touch that varies from sensual to aggressive.
Although Johns has repeatedly professed no particular interest in the nationalistic association of these subjects, they inevitably inspire meditations on the country and its history, present, and even future. Created when the United States was in the throes of the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War, they conjure contradictory attitudes toward a divided nation, ranging from hope and jubilance to pessimism and despair.
Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror Sept 29, 2021–Feb 13, 2022
Whitney Museum of American Art