target with plaster casts jasper johns
Robert Hughes, “Shock of the New”:
“The target is a test, and Johns took it with a sort of deadpan irony to test what one expects a work of art to do. For a painted target automatically negates the use of a real one. Once a target is seen aesthetically, as a unified design, its use is lost. It stops being a sign and becomes an image. We do not know it so clearly. Its obviousness becomes, in some degree, speculative. The center is not more important than the rings. In “Target with Plaster Casts”, the target’s five rings present themselves as painting alone: an even edible skin of wax encaustic, no part of it visually “superior” to the rest. Despite its target format, the painting is actually in the tradition of visual “all-overness” a continuous matrix of marks that ran from Seurat to Jackson Pollock. The idea of putting a bullet through it seems absurb. What would one aim at? A sign which can only be stared at becomes a painterly image which must be scan
ed. Meanwhile, the plaster casts of bits of the human body, set in their boxes above the painting, are transformed in exactly the opposite way. Their anonymity as specimens, twice removed from life – first cast, then dipped in monochrome paint – makes them like fossils or even more, like words, signs that stand for classes of things. “Ear”, “hand”, “penis”: one would like to see them as elements of a portrait, but they ca
“Moreover, like the disassembled body parts in Target with Plaster Casts, he may have felt fragmented by the pressure of being seen, or seen through, in a political environment that encouraged citizens to look closely at neighbours who appeared different from themselves. Building into his creation a mechanism for revelation and concealment, Johns may have been drawn to the idea that art could be used for either purpose.”
Wallace believes this notion of being seen, and perhaps even victimised, may offer us a key to a more private reading of Johns’ targets.
This weeks Work Of the Week is Jasper Johns’ Target With Plaster Casts.
This work represents one of Jasper Johns’ most famous subjects: the target.
The image of the target emerged in Johns’ work in 1955, in paintings that incorporate frieze-like arrangements of plaster casts taken from parts of the body. The two earliest Target paintings are Target With Four Faces and Target With Plaster Casts.
Targets by Johns, feature a depiction of an actual target that is, for all practical purposes, utterly interchangeable with the real thing. However, unlike the flag or the numbers, which are also familiar images from this period of the artist’s career, the flat target is simultaneously representational and abstract (a number or a flag can never be divorced from its status as a familiar sign). This makes the target susceptible to even more ambiguities.
For Johns the common shooting target is one of the many “things the mind already knows.” Using familiar objects “gives me room to work on other levels,” he has explained. Though the target is closely linked with the acts of looking and aiming, the concentric circles of Johns’s version are obscured and the surface made tactile with encaustic—pigment mixed with beeswax—on collage. Mounted above the target, four plaster casts taken from a single model over a period of several months are arranged in nonsequential order. A hinged wooden lid offers the option of shutting away the small niches that hold these cropped, eyeless faces.
In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.
In 1962 Mr. Johns made a group of prints by pressing his face and hands, covered with baby oil, onto large sheets of paper. The resulting images suggest a person swimming up from beneath an opaque surface that he is unable to push through. Over the next two years he finished two paintings and a drawing that referred to Hart Crane, the American poet who jumped off a ship in midsea and drowned.
The answer: Seeing them live. The 15 “Target” paintings installed in the show’s first gallery look every bit as radical and mysterious as they surely did in New York in the 1950s, when, simply by existing, they closed the door on one kind of art, Abstract Expressionism, and opened a door on many, many others.