Jasper Johns: Privileged Information

Jill Johnston, Author
Jill Johnston, Author Thames & Hudson $27.5 (335p) ISBN 978-0-500-01736-4
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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Despite his fame as an artist, Johns has always managed to keep his personal life a mystery. Nevertheless, Johnston (Secret Lives in Art) finds clues to his identity in two figures, a plague victim and a soldier, that he has hidden as abstractions in many of his paintings since the early 1980s. She sees these images, traced from Matthias Grunewald's 16th-century Isenheim Altarpiece, as opposing aspects of Johns's personality--the plague victim symbolizing his unhappy childhood and the soldier representing the heroic artist. She makes Johns's obsession with them the starting point of a quest to rout out details of his ""secret autobiography"" and show how his life has influenced his art. Her thesis is intriguing, and her analyses of Johns's paintings insightful, but her spiteful comments on the contemporary art world are disturbing, as are her accounts of her persistent interrogation of the artist and his family to ferret out the personal, such as his relationship with his parents and his homosexuality. Johns refused to give her any information, nor would he allow reproductions of his paintings in the book. There are, however, photographs of the artist, his family and the Grunewald altarpiece. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
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