Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965

Jeffrey Weiss, Author, John Elderfield, With, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, With Yale University Press $65 (276p) ISBN 978-0-300-12141-4
Rather than restating the fact of Johns' enormous influence during this highly productive decade, Weiss demonstrates it through a discussion of Johns's art-making process in this hefty monograph, produced in association with the National Gallery of Art. In five essays, Weiss and company focus on four ""motifs""-""the target; the 'device' (the pivotal slat used to scrape paint); the stenciled naming of colors; and the trace of imprint of the body""-with illustrations throughout and a long central section devoted entirely to artwork. In Weiss's essay, he traces the dynamics of Johns's working life-in its process and context-investigating among other aspects the relationship between Johns's work and his contemporary Jackson Pollock's: ""Pollock's compass is an instrument of release. ... Johns' compass is an instrument of containment, the body compressed into the mechanical 'actuality' of two-dimensional space."" Not all of the essays are so tightly observed, as in Kathryn Tuma's ""The Color and Compass of Things,"" which tends toward vague consideration of Johns's ""playful verbal wit"" and ""highly sophisticated sense of visual irony."" Despite the occasional art-class generalization, this volume has enough detail and richly reproduced artwork to make it a winning, illuminating addition to any art library. 80 halftone, 170 color illustrations.
Reviewed on: 01/01/2007
Release date: 01/01/2007
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