Contemporary American artist Jasper Johns has challenged the definition of art by focusing on everyday icons and emblems – what the artist famously referred to as “things the mind already knows.”
Johns is best known for his painting “Flag” (1954–55), which he created after dreaming about the American flag. His early works were composed using simple schema such as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers.
While best known for his paintings, Johns, now 83, is also widely respected for his graphic work, which has occupied a central role in his oeuvre for over five decades.
“Jasper Johns: Early Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation,” running from Jan. 17 through May 17 at The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, comprises selections from one of the richest private collections of Johns’ prints.
Curated by Jennifer Farrell, the museum’s curator of exhibitions and contemporary art, the showcase will feature almost 20 years of Johns’ work, beginning with a rare monoprint from 1954. A monoprint is a single impression of an image made from a reprintable block such as a metal plate, a litho stone or a wood block.
Johns’ prints illustrate his mastery of various mediums, and also offer a sense of his experimentation. Printmaking has allowed Johns to explore various methods for interpreting icons, emblems and objects – such as numbers, letters, maps, targets and ale cans – while also expanding the possibilities for printmaking.
Several of his prints also make reference to his work in other media without being mere copies or reproductions.
According to Farrell, Johns has consistently returned to such motifs in order to explore new methods and techniques that would allow him to reinterpret and engage these subjects again.
The majority of prints in the exhibit are lithographs, reflecting the importance the process has had for Johns since his early experiments with publisher Tatyana Grosman at Universal Limited Art Editions in 1960.
Also included are lead reliefs, screen prints and prints that use embossing, demonstrating Johns’ interest in the various processes, methods and materials of printmaking, even during the early stage of his artistic career.
“I bought my first Jasper Johns print, ‘Decoy II,’ in 1996,” collector Jordan D. Schnitzer said. “I was as taken then, as I am now, by the intrigue and complexity of his work.
“Johns portrays a distinct image in his work – but that is just the beginning of the journey for the viewer.”
In addition to illustrating Johns’ technical skill, the prints in the exhibition present the ordinary and often enigmatic motifs that are central to his art.
From the works in his series “0–9” (1963) to the complex layers of objects and meanings in “Decoy II” (1973), the exhibition reveals the skillful and poetic way in which Johns has consistently advanced contemporary printmaking, while also expanding the visual vocabulary and technical possibilities of art.
“I hope the exhibition at The Fralin helps others understand and appreciate why Jasper Johns is the foremost artist of our time,” Schnitzer said.
The Fralin Museum of Art, located at 155 Rugby Road, one block from the Rotunda, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
The museum’s programming is made possible by the support of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.
The exhibition received support from the Suzanne Foley Endowment Fund, the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, albemarle magazine and Ivy Publications LLC’s Charlottesville Welcome Book.