The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art will present a retrospective exhibition of prints by Jasper Johns in the museum’s main galleries. Bill Goldston, director of Universal Limited Art Editions, which has published many of the prints on view in Jasper Johns: The Prints, will speak in the MMoCA lecture hall at 7 pm as part of the opening preview on February 1.
The exhibition will feature 100 lithographs, screenprints, and intaglios made between 1960 and 2007. Together, the works comprise the largest collection of Johns’ prints ever displayed in the Midwest. A painter who also makes prints, Jasper Johns has been renowned in both mediums for nearly five decades. He has made prints continuously since 1960, working with many of the world’s most distinguished print publishers, including Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles; Atelier Crommelynck in Paris, in association with Petersburg Press of London and New York; Simca Print Artists in New York; and Universal Limited Art Editions in Bay Shore, New York.
Typically, Johns’ prints incorporate imagery that appeared previously in his paintings, including the targets, flags, maps, stenciled numerals and alphabets, crosshatching, and flagstone patterns with which he has long been associated. However, MMoCA’s curator of collections Rick Axsom, who organized Jasper Johns: The Prints, says the significance of Johns’ art is found in his exploration of meaning itself and how meaning cannot be fixed. Writing in the exhibition brochure, Axsom states, “Johns ponders our elusive knowledge of the world through perception, language, cognition, and memory, conducting his inquiries within the realm of art, and subject to the viewer’s own interpretation. . . . Pursuing paradox and contradiction by juxtaposing sensuously colored surfaces with structured design, illusion with literal fact, and painterly brushwork with defined line, Johns creates visual puzzles whose layered and unresolved ambiguities tease the eye and mind.”
Johns himself addressed the focus of his interest in an interview from 1964: “I am concerned with a thing’s not being what it was, with its becoming something other than what it is, with any moment in which one identifies a thing precisely and with the slipping away of that moment, with at any moment seeing or saying and letting it go at that.”
Axsom believes that the beauty and technical innovation evident in Johns’ prints, as well as their ambitious expressive content, puts Johns alongside Rembrandt Van Rijn, Francesco Goya, and Pablo Picasso as one of the greatest printmakers in the history of western art.
A 30-minute film, Jasper Johns: Take an Object, will run continuously in the main galleries as part of the exhibition. This short documentary takes its title from Johns’ defining sketchbook notation: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” The video begins in 1972 with Johns in his studio at work on the painting Mapand follows the artist over the next 17 years, culminating in 1989 with his work on the print The Seasons. Jasper Johns: Take an Object was produced by Hans Namuth and Judith Wechsler.
On view in the exhibition are both Johns’ first print, Target, a lithograph from 1960, and his most recent, an etching, Within, from 2007. Like many of Johns’ prints, Withinseems to summarize themes and motifs from earlier works. In this case, shadowed crosshatching is barely discernible beneath a gray flagstone pattern. The etching’s theme of seeking meaning beneath the surface of things is an apt metaphor for Johns’ art and a fitting conclusion to this retrospective exhibition of his prints.
Major funding for Jasper Johns: The Prints has been provided by the Madison Print Club; the Steinhauer Charitable Trust; James and Sylvia Vaccaro; Associated Bank; Webcrafters-Frautschi Foundation; the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional funds from the Overture Foundation; Paula and David Kraemer; Willy Haeberli and Gabriele Haberland; Jeff Levy; Anonymous; Oompa Toys; Jane Ann Blumenfeld; Madison Trust of the Brittingham Fund, Inc.; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin; and the Art League of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Friday, February 1 • 7 pm
Art Talk with Bill Goldston
Since 1976, Bill Goldston has overseen artistic and business aspects of Universal Limited Art Editions, Jasper Johns’ most frequent print publisher. Through his commitment to both traditional and experimental printmaking methods, Goldston has opened the door to new avenues of expression for artists such as Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Rothenberg, Kiki Smith, and Terry Winters, among others. Lecture hall. Free for MMoCA members/$5 admission for non-members.
Friday, February 15 • 6:30 and 7 pm
Jasper Johns: Decoy—Film and Discussion
In Jasper Johns: Decoy (18 minutes, 1972), Johns is shown working at Universal Limited Art Editions on the 18 aluminum plates used to create the lithograph Decoy.Narrated by noted art critic and writer Barbara Rose, the documentary captures Johns’ inventive re-use of his subjects as he experiments with the offset lithographic process. Following the screening of Decoy, MMoCA’s curator of collections Rick Axsom will speak about Decoy and Decoy II, both on view as part of Jasper Johns: The Prints. Decoy was a landmark in the artistic use of offset lithography, and one of the artist’s most important and complex print undertakings in the early 1970s. Lecture hall and main galleries. Free.
Friday, February 22 • 6:30 pm
A Printer's View of Jasper Johns
Andrew Rubin, master printer at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Tandem Press, will give an informal walk-through of Jasper Johns: The Prints. Rubin will address the complex and innovative printmaking techniques employed by Johns and the master printers with whom he has collaborated. Main galleries. Free.
Friday, March 28 • 6:30 pm
Targeting Jasper Johns: A Discussion of the Artist's Prints
Nancy Rose Marshall, associate professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will discuss Jasper Johns’ mediums and themes, including the targets, numbers, and maps with which he has become associated. Main galleries. Free.
Thursday, April 10 • noon
Up Close: Jasper Johns' Savarin
Rick Axsom, MMoCA curator of collections, will lead a guided, in-depth discussion of the print, Savarin, on view in Jasper Johns: The Prints. Axsom calls Savarin a Johns' "self-portrait masquerading as a still life." MMoCA's noon-time Up Close series offers opportunities for an informal exchange of ideas about works of art on view. Free.
Friday, April 11 • 6:30 pm
Jasper Johns: Medium, Surface, Sign
Michael Jay McClure, assistant professor of art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discusses how Jasper Johns’ choice of materials changes his repeated imagery in dramatic and meaningful ways. Consequently, Johns’ work becomes less about reproducing motifs and more about ever-changing contexts. Main galleries. Free.
Kids’ Art Adventures
Kids’ Art Adventures invites 6- to 10-year-olds and their families to make art together in the MMoCA classroom following guided discussion in the museum’s galleries. American Family Insurance provides generous support for Kids’ Art Adventures and other family activities. Free.
- Sunday, February 10 • 1 to 2:30 pm
Kids will use letters and numbers as they learn to make relief prints and experiment with stenciling.
- Sunday, March 9 • 1 to 2:30 pm
Using simple tools and lots of imagination, kids will make monoprints, a type of print that has been compared to painting for its spontaneity and lush surface qualities.
- Saturday, April 12 • 10 am to noon
In conjunction with Overture Center’s Children’s Arts Festival, Kids’ Art Adventures presents a relief-printing workshop in the museum’s classroom.
- Saturday, April 12 • 1 to 3 pm
MMoCA’s participation in Overture Center’s Arts Festival continues with more hands-on activities based on works from Jasper Johns: The Prints.