Los Angeles

Jasper Johns

Irving Blum Gallery

Moses’ show indicates a kind of stability and points out that the rapid turnover of styles is a two-way street. The short-range effect is that the parent art, barraged by progeny who have ironed out the bugs and hyped up the scale and intensity, dates quickly. The long-range effect is that, on return, the parent art looks much richer, tougher, more profound against the very backdrop of its turbine-powered children; there is a richness of imagery and technique, color and graphics, and, more or less, “meaning” unremembered before. Such is the case with Jasper Johns. If Johns is not, as the puff says, “the foremost lithographer of his time,” he is at least one of the most clever. The exhibition, a reprise of the images made famous—flags, coat hangers, targets, ale cans and numbers—is a veritable catalog of lithographic approaches, the touting of which does not diminish, but rather heightens the work. What Johns does best are kinds of “wedging”; he buries a foreground object in an activated background, he squeezes a certain-size mark into an elegantly proportioned surface, and he lays a wonderful scale of greys open to his controlled expressionist brushmark. There are two prints which seem to me to be unusually revealing of Johns’ conceptual-manual style. The Critic Sees depicts a pair of eyeglasses holding, in place of lenses, a pair of mouths (lips and teeth). In the path of the image (which is not one of Johns’ best), the story unfolds: the critic sees with his mouth, and Johns retorts with a picture, condescendingly literary, to which the critic can re-reply in words, renewing an absurd cycle. No, a large graphic (56'' x 35''), is an acrobatic tour de force involving three separate greys, silver, and a lead assemblage word (“NO”) dangling from an illusionary wire, possessing an illusionary/real shadow.

Peter Plagens