Lot Details

This work has superb provenance as it came directly from the Estate of Robert Graham of the venerable Graham Gallery. (Established in 1857, James Graham & Sons is one of the oldest family-run galleries in the United States. The gallery has exhibited the work of some of America's most prominent artists for nearly 150 years.)

"Moratorium" became an icon of the Anti-Vietnam War movement of the late Sixties, and it is considered one of Jasper Johns most important, controversial and socially significant prints. In 1969 a network of antiwar activists and student groups across the US planned the National Vietnam Moratorium, a series of mass demonstrations. Jasper Johns dealer, the legendary Leo Castelli Gallery commissioned the artist to create a poster for the Moratorium. The artist was famous for his pop art renditions of the American flag -works that were often viewed as celebrations of patriotism equally enjoyed by all citizens, despite more subtle undertones. But his poster for the Moratorium was a departure from his red, white, and blue paintings: Johns painted a toxic flag -- a national symbol poisoned by war. Johns’ flag was painted black, with sickly green stripes reminiscent of military camouflage and a ghoulish Halloween-orange hued field filled with blackened stars, an allusion to the deadly Agent Orange herbicide used by the U.S. military in the 1960s as part of its germ warfare program. In the center of the painted flag was a single white dot – representing a bullet hole. The design, historians have noted, was the perfect symbol for an ailing and decaying America in the quagmire of an unpopular war. Johns' painting was published as a poster with the single word "MORATORIUM" stenciled beneath the flag.

In the book, "Vietnam, Vietnam: Artists and America's Longest War", the authors recount how the mechanically printed poster was distributed far and wide, and according to Deborah Wye, Chief Curator of Prints at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Jasper Johns 'Moratorium' "became one of the most well known images of the Vietnam period." On the actual day of the Moratorium, 30+ million Americans participated in protests against US engagement in South East Asia. The print offered here is not the poster, but the rare special edition signed and numbered lithograph of the flag created to raise much needed funds for the antiwar movement.

But once again, things aren't what they seem: if you look deeper into Johns’ flag, it shows its true colors. Stare at the flag for about 30 seconds. Really focus on it. Don’t blink. If it helps, fix your eyes on the white dot in the middle. After 30 seconds, close your eyes. Then look look at a white piece of paper (or a white wall). If you did it right, you should see a red, white, and blue American flag.

As an article in the June, 2009 Psychology Today notes: "Observe [Johns'] Moratorium, 1969, and experience for yourself...the uncanny sensation that what you recognize is not what you expect leads to the discovery that the new flag in green, black and orange is actually an afterimage of the old red, white and blue. When you really see what you usually only look at....You should see what most of us think of as the American flag, in its proper colors!.."

When it was first created, Jasper Johns iconic 'Moratorium' was considered an un-patriotic and subversive by Nixonites and Conservatives. However, it was exactly works like this that would, more than four decades later, earn Johns a Presidential Medal of Freedom, which the Obama administration bestowed upon him in 2010.

This work is sold in its original elegant Kulicke wood frame with the prestigious GRAHAM MODERN label verso. Framed, it measures 30.5 inches by 22.5 inches by 2 inches, unframed it measures 28.5 by 20.5 inches. It is ready to hang. Fine condition; impeccable provenance.

Read more
Publication: "Oh Say, Can You See? Talented people pay heightened attention to the world." PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, Published on June 3, 2009, VIETNAM! VIETNAM! Artists & America's Longest War Written by Mark Vallen on the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, Jasper Johns FLAGS, 1965 & many other publications.
Catalogue Raisonné: Supplement 5, ULAE
No condition report has been added for this lot. Please contact the specialist for further information.
  • Estate of Robert Graham, Sr. GRAHAM MODERN GALLERY
Graham Modern Gallery, 1014 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021
  • Pickup Location: New York, USA
  • Shipping Dimensions: 22.5 x 30.5 x 1.5 in. (57.15 x 77.47 x 3.81 cm.)
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