Jasper Johns at SFMOMA

Seeing that Jasper Johns is having an exhibit at SFMOMA I could not pass the chance up. Jasper Johns is an artist that has made a large impact on me and my own art, particularly with his piece "According to What". In a period of abstract expressionism ruled by Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg who seek to make art to be all about the canvas without any outside influences, Johns instead says no, art is about everything, from the process, to the canvas and then continuing on to the viewers. While my main interest lies in the Renaissance to Neoclassicism period, having taken a modern art history class, I have a new found appreciation for the period, mainly for the process of art creation and ideology.The Jasper Johns exhibition is called "Seeing with the Mind's Eye" which is a reference to Johns' interest in "the idea of sight..in how we do and why we do". Showcasing a large body of John's works, from Canvas (1956), Numbers (1950s), Light Bulbs and Lead Reliefs (late 1950s), Flags (1967-1970), Bridge and Centenary (1997), and Bushbaby (2005), the exhibition displayed the various subjects that Johns portrayed in attempts to open the eye of the minds of the viewers. While John's art has evolved over the years, he has 2 concerns that remain prevalent: art making as a series of decision and looking as an active process. Canvas first showed John's approach to painting as something that is reflective; painting is a meditation on the nature of material, subject, object, and the artist. Johns treated painting as an object rather than a window and thus the piece used a lot of gray as an advance cause of literalism and to avoid distraction of emotion. However, the surface is painted with short strokes and daubs thus alternatively creating an energetic and flat sense which caused an uncanny balance between being expressing and being distant.

Johns loves Numbers as he did an extensive series on them in exploration of the relationship between sign and meaning. Johns focuses on their essence, as signposts that permeate contemporary life and as an charged entity that becomes embedded in memory. In part of the series Johns worked with lithographs and similar to some works that I recall from Andy Warhol comes the interesting aspect of repetition. Using the same image to stamp repeatedly doesn't create the same image each time but rather while every image looks primarily the same, each and everyone has their own unique differences. I also like this series because they were very rainbow and colorful.

My mind was blown when I saw the Light Bulbs and Lead Reliefs works. With the series Johns questions the interdependent exchanges with object to apprehend reality. Johns compares a light bulb without a power source, wire, socket, switch, and bulb, to be a corpse. With the lead reliefs, Johns explores the theme of bodily transformation and how tactility underscores the apprehension of the world. Eyes are not the only way to gain knowledge, much less experience reality.

Most well known for his Flags work, it was amazing to see some of the pieces in person. While the museum didn't have Johns' more famous Flag work, for that is over in New York, what SFMOMA did have was still interesting and did portray Johns' interest in the motif. What Johns sought was to reconfigure familiar subjects in different media and points in time to provide new ways to read the signs. Johns does this to enrich potential meanings and open them up to greater subjective interpretation and significance. It is almost like storytelling with metaphors. I love metaphors of how they enrich story and how with multiple meanings and considerations can open thousands of interpretations and lead down different paths.

On the same floor with the Jasper Johns exhibit featured another artist, Jay Defeo. Jay Defeo is an avant-garde artist who creates art that defies categorization; she seeks to create art that can be measured in length or weight through painting, drawing, jewelry, photography, or a hybrid of everything. What caught my eye from her works were her earlier massive paintings, Origin (1956) The Veronica (1957), The Rose (1958-1966) , Incision (1958-1960), and The Jewel (1959). They were all massive pieces of art with very high relief that comes right off of the canvas surface. The most impressive one would be The Rose, also her most famous work, made mostly out of oil paint with wood and mica on canvas, the piece is nearly 11 feet tall, 11 inches thick in some places, and weighs more than 1500 pounds. While the presence of each painting is astonishing, what is even more beautiful about each piece is the form created through paint. The Rose beautifully captures light across its form while The Veronica mimics a balletic choreographed performance of reminiscent to me of rolling waves of fire.

Finishing up my tour of the museum, I visited the Selective Histories exhibit. I was like a little kid in a candy store when I saw some of the work that they had in there. Outside, I was first greeted with a large mural, Super Nova, by Takashi Murakami, who I've done some research on for a project. Inside, I was so excited to see Henry Matisse's Woman with a Hat and Duchamp's Fountain. What really made my day was finally seeing a Rothko in person. The one that SFMOMA had was No.14 and it was just amazing standing in front of it as the colors completely fill your vision. I shed tears of joy. When I finally was able to pull myself away from the Rothko I found myself walking past a piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (America #1) and I just absolutely love his Perfect Lovers piece. [gallery]