Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
September 28, 2021 – February 13, 2022
A single exhibition in two venues, this unprecedented collaboration, Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror, will be the artist’s first major museum retrospective on the East Coast in a quarter century. Resulting from five years of scholarship and an inventive rethinking of Johns’s art, the exhibition will contain 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 will chronicle Johns’s accomplishments across many mediums – including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, working proofs, and monotypes -and highlight the complex relationships among them. Since the early 1950s, Jasper Johns (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.
Over the course of his career, he has tirelessly pursued an innovative body of work that includes painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, books, and the design of sets and costumes for the stage. 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. Galleries at each venue will serve as cognates, echoes, and inversions of their counterparts at the other, allowing viewers to witness and experience the relationships between continuity and change, fragment and whole, singularity and repetition which Johns has used throughout his career to renew and transform his work.
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 will explore 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. 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. Drawing significantly on its collection of 216 works by Johns, the Whitney’s display will occupy the entirety of its 18,000-square-foot, fifth-floor Neil Bluhm Family Galleries, the building’s largest contiguous exhibition space, and the adjacent Kaufman Gallery.
The Whitney’s installation will consist of more than 250 objects from domestic and international public and private collections, including nearly fifty works from the artist’s own collection, many of which are largely unknown to the public. At the Whitney, a progression of approximately eleven galleries will track the artist’s surprising evolution, with each gallery custom-built to create dramatic installations that emphasize specific aspects of Johns’s thought. One highlight will be a gallery of his early Flags and Maps, organized as a stately faceoff between examples in color and those in black-and-white to evoke powerful associations about a divided United States. To accompany the Whitney’s own Three Flags, 1958 – one of the icons of the Museum’s collection – many extraordinary loans have been secured for the occasion, including White Flag, 1955 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Flag on Orange Field, 1957 (Museum Ludwig, Cologne), and Flags, 1965 (artist’s collection, on long-term loan to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis). The gallery will also reunite Johns’s three monumental Map paintings from the early 1960s for the first time in more than twenty years.
A gallery exploring Johns’s recent work will offer a poignant meditation on works related to the themes of mortality and longing. Acting as a mirror between the two venues, an edition of Johns’s landmark sculpture of two Ballantine ale cans, Painted Bronze, 1960, will appear at each venue – the Whitney’s from the artist’s collection and the PMA’s from Museum Ludwig, Cologne. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s equally comprehensive display will be spread across eleven rooms in the Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries and adjoining Korman Galleries. It will feature approximately 250 works by the artist from both public and private collections in the US and abroad, including approximately sixty works from the artist’s collection, many of which have never been exhibited to the public before.