NEW YORK and PHILADELPHIA — The most comprehensive retrospective to date of the work of Jasper Johns, organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, will remain on view concurrently in the two cities through February 13, 2022.
Resulting from five years of scholarship and an inventive rethinking of Johns’s art, the exhibition contains nearly 500 works. It is the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to Johns, creating an opportunity to highlight not only his well-known masterpieces but also many works that have never been exhibited publicly.
Structured around the principles of mirroring and doubling that have long been a focus of the artist’s work, this two-part exhibition, which follows a loose chronological order from the 1950s to the present, offers an innovative curatorial model for a monographic survey. It chronicles Johns’s accomplishments across many mediums — including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, working proofs, and monotypes — and highlights the complex relationships among them.
Since the early 1950s, Jasper Johns (American, b. 1930-) has produced a radical and varied body of work distinguished by constant reinvention. In his twenties, Johns created his now-canonical Flag (1954–55), which challenged the dominance of Abstract Expressionism by integrating abstraction and representation through its direct, though painterly, deadpan visual power.
His works have continued to pose similar paradoxes — between cognition and perception, image and object, painting and sculpture — and have explored new approaches to abstraction and figuration that have opened up perspectives for several generations of younger artists. During the course of his career, he has tirelessly pursued an innovative body of work.
The exhibition is conceived as a unified whole, comprising two autonomous parts, and is co-curated by two longtime scholars who each has a close relationship with the artist: Carlos Basualdo, The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the PMA, and Scott Rothkopf, Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator at the Whitney.
The full breadth of the exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to appreciate not only Johns’s most iconic paintings and sculptures but also his works on paper, which represent some of the most inventive prints and drawings created during the past 50 years.
The retrospective is divided between the two venues, with pairs of related galleries designed to illuminate a different aspect of Johns’s thought and work through a specific methodological lens, whether by spotlighting themes, processes, images, mediums, and even emotional states. For example, one pair of galleries explores the effect of specific places and communities on Johns’s art, with a room at the PMA devoted to his formative time in Japan and one at the Whitney focused on South Carolina, where he spent part of his childhood and later worked as a young adult.
Other pairs of galleries re-create exhibitions Johns staged at the Leo Castelli gallery in 1960 and 1968, respectively, and highlight his groundbreaking use of found motifs, as seen in a gallery at the Whitney devoted to his Flags and Maps, and another at the PMA focused on his recurrent fascination with numbers. The unique double-venue framework aims to challenge the traditional format of the retrospective as a unified overarching and univocal narrative, providing an alternative model for tracing the arc of an artist’s lifework.