Jasper Johns: Privileged Information

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Thames and Hudson, 1996 - Artists - 335 pages
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In a remarkable feat of biography and criticism, Jill Johnston shows how the life and work of America's preeminent artist are inextricably linked. As we follow the arc of Jasper Johns's career - from the raw loft he lived in as an unknown artist to the dining rooms of wealthy collectors that he now frequents as a "consummated artist" - we discover an artist who has consistently introduced intensely intimate elements into his work yet is compelled to disguise and deny those very elements. The book begins with a mystery - Jill Johnston's search for the source of a hidden figure in a number of Johns's paintings. That figure - which she identifies as a grotesquely diseased and dying man - opens a path to the autobiographical core in the work of this most secretive of visual artists. Her discoveries lead us to the Johns family roots in South Carolina, and then to the New York art community of the early 1950s, when the fabulous foursome of Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham challenged the conventions of modern art, dance, and music. As Johnston charts the evolution of Johns's private and public identities, she interviews friends and associates and attends the openings and ceremonies that punctuate Johns's extraordinarily successful career. Along the way are several enigmatic encounters with Johns himself: a downtown luncheon interview, a chance meeting at the Venice Biennale, and a dinner with Johns and a number of his wealthy patrons at Si Newhouse's elegant Manhattan townhouse. Critics until now have been primarily concerned with Johns's formal strategies, seeing the autobiographical elements in his work as "privileged information", inappropriate for criticalcomment. But Johnston's achievement is to put this unexpected dimension of intimate information squarely at the center of his work. Readers of her brilliantly original account will come away with a larger, more resonant sense of Johns's art.

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About the author (1996)

Johnston is an art and cultural critic.

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