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Travel Tip: Art and Archaeology in United States
Jasper Johns: Numbers



Jasper Johns: Numbers
UNITED STATES
LOS ANGELES  •  Los Angeles County Museum of Art  •  Ongoing
 
Beginning in the mid-1950s, Jasper Johns formulated a pointedly non-introspective style that examined the limitations of representation—he wanted to reveal the ways in which an art object contains and expresses meaning. By re-presenting wholly public, relatively prosaic symbols that are not usually the subject of high art—for instance, flags, numbers, letters, and targets—Johns challenged the viewer to see something new, to question accepted conventions of representation, and to look with an inquisitive, rather than a complacent eye.

In 1955 Jasper Johns did a series of encaustic and collage paintings of single numbers on a rectangular field, called Figures, and the variations he developed on this motif over the next decade produced some of his greatest masterpieces. By 1960, Johns had developed four distinct motifs of the numbers subject: Figures, Numbers, 0–9, and 0 through 9. Figures show a single figure set into a rectangular field. In Numbers the artist developed a grid format of repeating rows of the ten digits, zero to nine, in a logically ordered but changing sequence, such as Small Numbers in Color (1959). For the 0–9 motif (also called Ten Numbers) the artist created an abbreviated grid of ten rectangular units in two rows of five, as in 0–9 (1975). He developed the format more fully in drawings and prints in which he depicted the figures on individual sheets that could be displayed either in two rows or a single row, beginning with zero and ending with nine, such as the Color Numeral Series (1969).

Finally, in the variation 0 through 9, he superimposed all ten digits in a rectangular field one on top of the other, creating a layered assortment in which the unique form of each numeral is subsumed in a larger whole, and fragments of their shapes emerge and disappear as they compete for the viewer’s attention. 0 through 9 (1960) in charcoal, 0 through 9 (1961) in oil, and 0 through 9 (1961) in aluminum represent this motif in various media.

Johns’s Numbers have had a profound impact on subsequent art because they address basic questions about perception and the nature of representation itself. Johns developed their form from commercial stencils, and the use of such “found” shapes—ones that are predetermined and widely recognizable—challenges the way the viewer looks at works of art by transforming the ordinary into richly worked visual objects.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art Web Site


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