Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror

"Painted Bronze" (1960, photo: Francis Levy)

Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella The Double: A Saint Petersberg Poem deals with the feckless Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, a minor bureaucrat, perhaps inspired by the ill-fated Akaky Akakievich of The Overcoat. One night wandering in St. Petersberg the dejected Golyadkin meets a version of himself who's everything he's not—ie quite the man about town. Borges’s The Other is based on The Double only the central character is the author himself. Which brings us to the subject of Jasper Johns and his two Ballantine Ale cans, aka "Painted Bronze" (1960). The inspiration for the sculpture comes from Willem de Kooning’s snarky remark that Leo Castelli, Johns’ dealer, was so adept, he could sell two beer cans. The remark became the inspiration for the work--which quickly sold. Doubling is reflected in the very title of the Johns exhibit, "Mind/Mirror," at the Whitney through February 13th (talking about doubling the other half is displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). The works on display are both philosophical and haunted. For instance, in "Two Maps" (1965), the mirror effect takes the form of stacking, one canvas on top of the other, producing a dissolution between the original and the doppelganger. It’s one of the problems identical twins face, at least at some point in their lives. Where does one begin and the other end? Johns is interested in everyday objects: flags, maps, targets, alphabets, numbers--"things the mind already knows," he once said. But the proliferation and serialization catches one up short since, ultimately, they’re not exactly alike as with say Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans. The images are a monkey on the artist's back, talking to each other, in a dialogue that never ends. Ironically this is exactly what seemed to have happened vis a vis the sometimes disconsonant dialectic that developed between the curators behind two exhibits that bore the same name ("Seeing Double With Jasper Johns,NYT, 9/13/21) By the way next time you're looking for information on the show Google "Whitney Johns." 

Read "Ultimate Rejection" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen "Funky Broadway" by Wilson Pickett

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