February 10, 2008

"Jasper Johns: Gray" at the Met

What comes to mind when you think of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? The Temple of Dendur? The Neopolitan Christmas Tree? The Greek and Roman antiquities? The amazing collection of Impressionist paintings?

In what seems to be an effort to move forward into the 21st Century, the Met is now focusing more and more on Modern Art with an emphasis on American masters. Their latest foray into this category is the new special exhibition dedicated to one of the greats of the Postmodernist movement and an icon to all subsequent generations of artists, Jasper Johns. Born in South Carolina in 1930, Johns moved to New York in 1949 and made his debut at the Leo Castelli Gallery just 10 years later. He, along with Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, are considered direct descendents of Marcel Duchamp and the Dada Movement - revolutionary and ahead of their time, but finally revered as living legends.

"Jasper Johns: Gray" is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's homage to this living legend. Not content to chose the easy route and hang his colorful and high impact images of targets, maps, cross hatching and flags, the curators of this exhibition have selected 119 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints, all (except one) done in shades of gray.

How can I convince you, the reader, to go to an exhibition that is monochromatic to the extreme? I can tell you that gray takes on a whole new life in Johns' hands. Yes, gray can be flat, solid and unemotional, but it can also take on innumerable nuances in both hue and texture that imbue these works with a power and intensity that you cannot imagine without seeing them for yourself.

I am not an academic or an art theorist. I am familiar with and have profound respect for Mr Johns, his Ĺ“uvre and his contribution to Modern and Contemporary Art. With this exhibition, the Met has thrown down the gauntlet and challenged the visitor to look beyond the pretty pictures and focus on the how and the why of art, even if no answers are forthcoming. Will gray replace the gorgeous pinks, violets and blues of a Monet "Waterlilies"? No, it's not intended to, but it makes one think, and that's the point.

"Jasper Johns: Gray" is on view until May 4th.

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