Jasper Johns

American (Augusta, Georgia, 1930)

In the 1950s Jasper Johns developed a distinctive painting style that would help lead American art away from the then-dominant movement of Abstract Expressionism. Unlike that energetic style, Johns's work was mute and static. Apart from occasional found objects or cryptic references to his own life, he painted mostly impersonal motifs — targets, numbers, the US map, and the American flag — whose banality diminished any obvious meaning. The exact correspondence of figure and ground in his work challenged the traditional distinction between an object and its depiction. At the same time, variations on each theme dissolved the "natural" link between the symbol and its meaning. Johns thus questioned the basic underpinnings of our representational system, and specifically the mechanisms of fine art.


From June 3, 2013, through early 2016, SFMOMA's building on Third Street in San Francisco will be temporarily closed for expansion construction. Selected artworks in our collection are included in a range of off-site exhibitions during this period. We regret that the remainder of the collection will not be available for study during this time.

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