‘Jasper Johns: “Something Resembling Truth”‘
“I saw ‘Something Resembling Truth’ in London this past October,” writes Jason Farago, “and, especially abroad, the flags were hard to take. Johns’s ambivalent American paintings, equipoised between image and object, invention and preexistence, have long confounded art historians and critics—unsure of whether they stand for the United States and what sort of political orientation Johns imagined for them. (Only once, for a 1969 poster for the Moratorium Committee to End the War in Vietnam, did Johns produce a flag with a clear partisan aim. It had green and black stripes and an orange canton.) It has also become a commonplace, in the sixty years since Johns painted the first Flag, for critics to bewail how much wider the gap has grown between the ideals of America and the country’s brutal realities. But no critic until this past year has had to contend with Johns’s flags when the very survival of the American republic was in doubt, and when America’s economic power, cultural influence, and geopolitical clout were so clearly in decline. The mythology of Jasper Johns, after all, has always been predicated on the primacy of American art as the postwar successor to European modernism—and critics will have to reckon anew with postwar American art if American primacy becomes a thing of the past.”
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