Jasper Johns Prints covers 40 years of printmaking from one of America's most revered artists. All the works in this exhibition are from the John and Maxine Belger Family Foundation collection, which is housed at the Belger Arts Center. These prints, collected over a span of 40 years, have been shown throughout the United States in recent years. We are happy to be able to mount this exhibition in Kansas City, Missouri in conjunction with the Southern Graphics Council's conference.
In 1954, 24-year-old Jasper Johns destroyed all his artwork still in his possession and made a crucial decision: “Before, whenever anybody asked me what I did, I said I was going to become an artist. Finally, I decided to stop becoming an artist and to be an artist.” From his studio in New York City Johns set about creating a body of work that used familiar imagery: flags, targets, numerals. This imagery flew in the face of the Abstract Expressionist movement that was ruling the New York art world at the time. Johns took his images and worked and reworked them, pushing his ideas. Three years of intensive studio work led to his first solo exhibit, at the Leo Castelli Gallery. The show of paintings and sculpture was a sensation, with the Museum of Modern Art taking three pieces. By 1959 Time magazine was calling Johns “the brand-new darling of the art world's bright, brittle avant-garde.”
In 1960 Tatyana Grosman of Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) invited Johns to work at her studio in Long Island. Johns met with Grosman and she sent two lithograph stones to his studio in the city. Johns ignored his friend Robert Rauschenberg who advised him the mid-twentieth century was not the best time for an artist to be writing on rocks. The first print to be published was “Target” (1960). The other stone was used to produce the series “0-9” (1960-63). By the end of the 1960’s Johns had produced more than 120 prints and was regarded as a master of printmaking. Rauschenberg also eventually found his way into the printmaking world with much success.
Master Printer Bill Goldston of ULAE dedicated himself to advancing techical expertise in print. He made it possible to make printed images in new ways, methods that merged seamlessly with Johns’ experimentation. Through collaborations with Goldston and others, Johns’ work advanced the whole process of printmaking.
In addition to the earliest prints, among the highlights of Jasper Johns Prints is the inclusion of six lead relief prints from 1969-70. Due to the delicate surface, these works are only exhibited at the Belger Arts Center.
At times Johns has done prints based on paintings and other times the print has come first. He has never stopped experimenting with ideas and has never been bothered by the critical tides that have favored or not favored him. In 2006 the art world was reminded again of Johns’ stature when his 1959 painting “False Start” sold for 80 million dollars, an astonishing amount for the work of a living artist.
Jasper Johns Prints includes nearly 70 titles which represent more than 90 works on paper (some suites of multiple prints are displayed under one title). In addition to Jasper Johns the Belger Family Foundation collection also features extensive holdings of artwork by Renée Stout, William Christenberry, Terry Winters, Terry Allen, Robert Stackhouse, and William T. Wiley. Artwork from the collection is available for loan to museums, universities, and art centers.