Robert Rosenblum, the preeminent professor, curator, critic and author of the text for 0-9, was one of the first scholars to write about Jasper Johns’ use of numerals, targets and the alphabet. He wrote in 1963 that Johns’ “flags and targets, numbers and letters... heroically attempt to find again those qualities of ritualistic beauty, symbolism and discipline once provided to artist and public by standardized classical and Christian iconography.” In 1960, Tanya Grosman sent Johns a lithographic stone to tempt and provoke him to start working with her at Universal Limited Art Editions. Subsequently, after he explored the subject matter of “numerals” in oil, encaustic and graphite, in 1963 he produced three portfolios, one printed in black, one in grey, and one in colors. In using the same stone for the different numbers, and in making discreet changes to the stone with each subsequent number, Johns exploited the idea that both change and continuity are inherent in a numerical sequence.
The artist’s closeness to Rosenblum is undoubtedly why he was asked by the artist to write the preface to this important portfolio. And it was also undoubtedly out of this respect and admiration for Rosenblum that Johns replaced four of the lithographs in this set when they were stolen in the 1960s, and inscribed them specially, “Proof to replace stolen.”
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