Exhibition | Jasper Johns: More Than Meets the Eye

Nov 21, 2018 — Jun 9, 2019

Born in 1930, Jasper Johns is the world’s most critically acclaimed living artist. His work bridges the immediate post-World War II modernist trends of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism with subsequent movements of the 1960s, including Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptual art. 

While his reputation is international, Johns has deep roots in South Carolina. He grew up in Allendale, where he lived with his paternal grandparents after his parents divorce. Johns graduated as valedictorian from his Sumter high school. He then attended the University of South Carolina for three semesters before moving to New York to pursue his career in art. He enrolled in the Parsons School of Design in 1948, but left the school after one semester. In 1951 he was drafted by the Army and served at Fort Jackson and at Sendai, Japan during the Korean War.

Upon receiving an honorable discharge in 1953, Johns moved back to New York, where he met artist Robert Rauschenberg who introduced Johns to the city’s art scene. Johns received his first solo exhibition after Rauschenberg introduced him to gallery owner Leo Castelli. For the first time, Johns’s now iconic painting Flag was exhibited along with several variations and other previously unseen works from the 1950s. The critics roared their approval, and Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, purchased three paintings by the unknown artist from South Carolina.

As a young artist, Johns narrowed his subjects to commonplace objects, in his words,  “things the mind already knows,” but in recent years he has introduced more personal elements—images of objects he has collected, including his father’s watch, a shadow of himself and references to his step-grandmother, Montez. He has also adapted imagery from many other artists, including Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, and Leonardo da Vinci. Throughout his career, Johns has recast his flags, targets, and other borrowed subjects, and in the process he has altered both the images and their potential meaning. 

Widely considered to be self-taught, Johns was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984. In 2011, he was named the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the first artist to receive the award since Alexander Calder in 1977.

Credited with bridging the gap between Expressionism and Pop Art, Johns introduced the ideas of Minimalism and Conceptual art and an open-ended aesthetic.

The GCMA collection of works by Jasper Johns began with several gifts from the artist himself upon the occasion of the museum’s opening in 1974. Today, the GCMA collection is one of the ten largest institutional collections of works by Johns in the world.