johns target with plaster casts
Target with Plaster Casts
Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects
129.5 x 111.8 cm (51 x 44 in)
Collection Mr. and Mrs. Leo Castelli
Robert Hughes, “Shock of the New”:
Target With Plaster Casts
1979 – 80
Etching and aquatint in colors on BFK Rives paper
29 1/2 x 22 3/8 in.
Edition of 88
Engraved signed, dated and numbered
About This Work:
Each of these Target paintings by Johns features a depiction of an actual target that is, for all practical purposes, utterly interchangeable with the real thing. Yet unlike the flag or the number, 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 other ambiguities. Targets imply, or are instruments of, seeing across space (and seeing as an act of potential violence). But the optical nature of the concentric bands can also be understood to figure distraction rather than focus,
His art is built on such ambiguities. Most of his very early paintings, done in a thick encaustic medium that makes them look molded instead of brushed, feel like sculptures. Many of those done a bit later in oils have three-dimensional objects attached to their surfaces so that, like furniture, they carve out sculptural space.
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.
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.
Wallace believes this notion of being seen, and perhaps even victimised, may offer us a key to a more private reading of Johns’ targets.
“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.”