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Apr. 29, 2011

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After perplexing his fans with his gnomic "Catenary" paintings in his 2005 exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery (though not Artnet Magazine critic Charlie Finch), artist Jasper Johns (b. 1930) has gone back to basics -- the numbers 0 through 9 -- for his new show at Marks, titled "Jasper Johns: New Sculpture and Works on Paper," May 7-July 1, 2011, at least judging from the lushly illustrated hardcover catalogue that has been published to accompany the event.  

The drawings and works on paper revisit many of Johns’ familiar motifs, though some new images are included, notably round, grimacing cartoon faces that turn out to be inspired by piggy banks made from calabash gourds. More surprising is the series of cast bronze and aluminum "sculptures" -- call them a painter’s idea of sculpture, since they’re as flat as paintings with thick edges (though one is formed into a ca. 29-inch-tall cylinder, and can be used as a vase) -- which return to the artist’s famous stenciled number motif. The grids of numbers (one measures 11 x 11 units, so that the numerals form a kind of magic square), cast from encaustic, have all kinds of fascinating details, from molds of house keys and impressions of newspaper articles to a footprint of the late choreographer Merce Cunningham.

In the interview with artist Terry Winters that is included in the exhibition catalogue, Johns reveals that the impulse for the sculptures came from his 1964 work at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center, which he describes as a "big painting of numbers. . .  made of Sculp-metal." This work also includes a cast of Cunningham’s foot.

What about the prices? Such info is definitely on a need-to-know basis, but collector Adam Lindemann let slip in an interview with Reuters blogger Felix Salmon this week that Johns’ new "paintings" are $3.5 million (while his wife, dealer Amalia Dayan, worried that Marks would ban the couple because of the indiscretion). [Image: Jasper Johns, Numbers (detail), 2007]

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