MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
The series of Johns’ Seasons meditates on the passing of time; Fall represents middle age and a state of decay. Johns was 55 when he executed the final painting, and it is the only one of the four paintings the artist kept in his personal collection. The series begins with Spring, in which a nascent life is depicted in the silhouette of a small boy in the foreground. Summer presents a peak in the life cycle, a figure surrounded by a flowering tree and placed against a verdant green background. Fall presents a moment of breakdown, in which the elements so stable in the preceding Summer collapse. The main figure is split in half, the ladder is snapped, and Johns’ possessions tumble to the ground. Study for Fall is a particularly rich precursor to the final work Fall, as it focuses in on the lower corner featuring fallen objects rife with personal meaning for the artist: a vase and mug by the great American ceramicist George Ohr and a Rubins vase, all amid jumbled fragments of the shattered canvas that in Summer had been securely fastened to the ladder. Johns did indeed own a vase and puzzle mug by Ohr, and both featured in the artist’s Ventriloquist, an encaustic on canvas work from 1983 that also features a lithograph by Barnett Newman. The Rubins vase was the product of the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubins, who developed this optical illusion that, when viewed one way presents a chalice, and when viewed another way, presents two faces in profile facing one another, creating tension between figure and ground, a relationship Johns negotiated throughout his artistic practice. The hatched lines of the background represent pieces of John’s painting from Summer that is now in ruins, reflecting an introspective moment in Johns’ career. Of Picasso’s painting, which served as the inspiration for these paintings, Johns said, “More than most of [Picasso’s] paintings, the catalog of things is very layered...There was something very wonderful, very interesting in an unexpected way. It’s not the pursuit of logic. I thought, how did he have that thought? I wouldn’t have that thought.” (Jasper Johns quoted in Roberta Bernstein, Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture, Volume 1, New York, 2017, p. 236-237) The present work is perhaps the most intimate vignette related to the Seasons and a window into an artist, who, for so long, resisted any revelations of the self. In its juxtaposition of the Ohr vase, puzzle mug and the visual puzzle of the Rubins vase, Study for Fall becomes an autobiographical portrait of Johns’ influences and brings together motifs to create an intriguing catalog of clues to the source material for the artist’s output.
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