Jasper Johns Shows His Regrets

Friday, March 21, 2014

Jasper Johns (American, born 1930). Study for Regrets. 2012. (Art © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph: Jerry Thompson)

Jasper Johns helped jump-start the Pop art movement in the 1950s by painting everyday objects like American flags and targets. He's perhaps America's most celebrated living artist and now, at age 83, he has a new show at the Museum of Modern Art called "Regrets."

The title took art critic Deborah Solomon by surprise. She explained that American artists rarely express regret in their work. "American culture is really about new beginnings, new possibilities, the idea of the reconstruction of the self," she said.

That's clearest in the work of artists like Jeff Koons, with his balloon dogs, she said. "It's about how everything is disposable. Just get rid of what you have and get something newer and shinier. Johns, by contrast, wallows, wallows in his regret and I find that very appealing."

John's show is based on a picture of the late British painter Lucian Freud alone in a room, sitting on an old-fashioned iron bed, newspapers at his feet. He is holding his head, as if it hurts. Johns used the photograph to make paintings, prints and drawings. 

Photograph of Lucian Freud, circa 1964 (photo by John Deakin)

The title "Regrets" got Solomon thinking about what she regrets herself: for example, her negative reviews. Also, she said, "I regret that I spent so much time looking at not-great art," like what was showcased at this year's Whitney Biennial.

Solomon wonders, what art shows do you regret having seen?

Jasper Johns, Untitled. 2013. (Promised gift from a private collection. Art © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph: Jerry Thompson)

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Comments [21]

dr tom ferraro

I love the idea that Johns uses the torn and missing piece of the photo as his central image to me it all means he so regrets that he couldn't do more in his life. thank you Deborah for the wonderful review

Aug. 19 2014 12:59 PM

I'm an art neophyte. Haven't seen much art, but I've enjoyed everything I've seen. Especially enjoy MOMA. The picture of Lucien Freud made me sad, especially the detail of the newspapers on the floor--I've been there. Who doesn't have some regrets--mistakes made,pain that lingers. Supposedly at the end it all makes goes on I guess is the phrase.

Mar. 26 2014 05:42 AM
Victor Stabin from Palookaville

That's a pretty sophomoric looking painting. If this is the top of the pop I doubt the 20th Century is going to stand the test of time.

I think the Emperor is naked.

Just Sayin.

Mar. 23 2014 03:54 PM
Victor Stabin from Palookaville

That's a pretty sophomoric looking painting. If this is the top of the pop I doubt the 20th Century is going to stand the test of time.

I think the Emperor is naked.

Just Sayin.

Mar. 23 2014 03:53 PM

But Ill like to point out a big issue towards the Mexican-vote. The fact that many pro hispanic voting groups are more dictating who we should vote for is pretty shameful,and instead of educating us in the issues. The whole get out and vote nonpartisan groups are shams that shun you if you do not vote for who they support. Which is a major issue that does not allow us to express our views or grow them. It is a union of fauds to support candidates who are going to be more beneficial towards the heads of such groups then that of the people in said groups.

Mar. 23 2014 01:42 PM
Bebe from Queens

Regrets make sense when we've done something we had a choice about, or when we should have known better. Regrets in the context of a job assignment are meaningless. It was the critic's job to see the Whitney Biennial; therefore, she might have hated the show but it's not something she could regret. Unless she wants to regret her entire career as an art critic. If so, there's still time!

Mar. 23 2014 10:02 AM

I regretted seeing the Italian Futurist exhibit at the Guggenheim. Rather than pulling me in and engaging me, I found that it assaulted my senses.

Mar. 21 2014 02:48 PM
Irisbow from Rural Connecticut

Funny. How can one say one regrets negative reviews and in the very next sentence say that the Whitney biennial was a waste of time. Art critics, hmmm. I have some opinions that I won't express now as I might regret it.

Mar. 21 2014 11:50 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Thanks Julian from Brooklyn,

Beautifully put!

Mar. 21 2014 10:11 AM
Julian from Brooklyn, NY

More of John's filters. Whose regret is he referring to?
The young Lucien Freud, whose photograph is the ostensible
subject of this show, became a celebrated artist. Koons is mentioned.
Does John's regret that his Flags spawned litters of shiny baubles?
As with most of his work, John' motives and meanings probably
lie far below the surface of this new collection if work.

Mar. 21 2014 10:05 AM

Though I was prepared not to, I really enjoyed the Biennial!
I never regret seeing art, I regret not seeing art...

Mar. 21 2014 09:45 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Dear Adam from NJ -- Thanks for your nice comments, and I love the idea of David Hockney sketching sports events on TV. Please ask him!

Mar. 21 2014 09:45 AM
Elisa Jensen from Brooklyn

Deborah, Thanks for asking! I loved your insight on the Johns Show.

One of my first painting teachers taught me that we have a lot to learn from looking at "bad paintings." And as Hamlet said "Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Certainly, a walk through the galleries in Chelsea, Bushwick or the Lower East Side will expose you to a broad range of art. I never regret having gone, that said, i have learned when not to linger!

Mar. 21 2014 09:44 AM
Adam from NJ

I enjoy all of these pieces by Gisele Regatao and Deborah Solomon - such a great series - keep it up. As for artists who can sit by sporting events and create, I don't know if he can draw well, but I think of the David Hockney pools and wonder if he could do a swimming race.

Mar. 21 2014 09:21 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Hello there Rachel from NYC, Linda Berger Jacobs from NJ, art525 from Park Slope and Marnie Mueller!

Thanks for all your comments.

Marnie, Your compliment made my day!

Rachel from NYC -- Nice remembrance of LeRoy Neiman and I do miss the days when he sat on the set of the Super Bowl, sketching the game as it unfolded. We need to think of a new American artist who can attend the Olympics and other sports events and draw for the benefit of television audiences. Any suggestions? Who draws well?

Mar. 21 2014 09:09 AM
Marnie Mueller

What I DON'T regret is the time spent reading American Mirror, Deborah Solomon's book on Norman Rockwell. It was a revelation and also an engaging read.

Mar. 21 2014 08:57 AM
art525 from Park Slope

When I first came to NYC in the late 70s I went to The Whitney all the time. Back in the Tom Armsteong days. I haven't gone for years except for one exception- The Hopper drawing show. (Don't get me started on how they neglect the Hopper legacy). I couldn't even bring myself to go for a nickel. Like that movie review said- that's two hours of my life I'll never have back again. Unfortunately it is all too true of the art world in general these days.

Mar. 21 2014 08:50 AM
Linda Berger Jacobs from New Joisy

My first reaction to seeing this image (on the computer, not in person) is wondering what Johns was thinking looking at Lucien Freud so alone, so vulnerable? Great artist - alone at the end? Or did it matter if it was Freud. Just a broken down man, with sadness and regret? The room like Van Gogh's room. The newspaper a hint that he's just read about some sad news. I wondered about Johns when I heard the news about his assistant, then the deaths of old colleagues like Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage. But the image then segwayed away from the "regret?" and portrayed his process - the process of going abstract - from an image. Image to abstract - and whatever happens, whatever shape happens, whatever forms, etc. Start anywhere - a sentimental photo, etc and then let "it" expand. The excitement of artists who worked that way. I regret not seeing artists that spontaneous and clever and rich in aesthetics and free. That's the excitement, the brilliance and the inspiration. JJ is the master master American abstract artist. Regret? The artworld turned so "commercial". Quality got compromised for money. There are so few gallery dealers who have that special eye. And the worst regret - where are all the really good/great artists? I know a few, but they don't get shows in NYC. What happened?

Mar. 21 2014 08:44 AM
Rachel from NYC

Hi Deborah-
Years ago I worked at Hammer Galleries. At the time, they represented LeRoy Neiman. His serigraphs of sports, beaches, hotels, athletes, etc. were never quite taken seriously (very mass produced and fed into art as commodity that never sits well with historians or collectors). I regret never insisting we exhibit his beautifully executed boxing drawings and watercolors. He was quite an artist, lending advice and support to younger artists, colleges and museums. I thought of him when you did the piece on Rockwell. Back to Johns, doesn't that story also include a piece about a "regrets" rubber stamp? I am going to see the exhibit today! RK

Mar. 21 2014 08:32 AM
Deborah Solomon from WNYC

Good morning Moses Hoskins!

Thanks for writing, and here's wishing you BETTER ART EXPERIENCES in the future!

Mar. 21 2014 07:54 AM
Moses Hoskins

Whenever I visit the Whitney, it is on pay-what-you-wish night and I pay a nickel -unless I think I'll be using the toilet during my visit and then I may pay as much as a quarter. This way I am not so likely to experience regret at having wasted a Friday night in a chance to observe what the enemies of art are up to.

Mar. 21 2014 07:10 AM

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