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MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION

Jasper Johns
USUYUKI
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,500,0003,500,000
LOT SOLD. 4,179,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT
4

MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION

Jasper Johns
USUYUKI
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
2,500,0003,500,000
LOT SOLD. 4,179,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York

Jasper Johns
B.1930
USUYUKI
signed and dated 95; signed, dated 95 and inscribed Sharon, CT on the reverse
watercolor and pencil on paper
29 1/4 by 46 1/2 in. 74.3 by 118.1 cm.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

This work will be included in the forthcoming Jasper Johns Catalogue Raisonné of Drawings being prepared and published by the Menil Foundation as a project of the Menil Drawing Institute.

Provenance

Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC #D-390)
Acquired by the present owner from the above in February 1996

Catalogue Note

Bold in its kaleidoscopic color palette and riveting in its unending visual depth, Usuyuki is among the most visually captivating and intellectually rigorous compositions of Johns’ storied artistic career. An incredibly rich and accomplished exercise in color theory executed on a grand scale, Usuyuki is an exceptional example of Johns’ widely celebrated crosshatch motif, a rare motif within Johns’ iconography that embraces pure abstraction and does not have an obvious referential signifier in everyday life. With the gestural fluidity characteristic of the watercolor medium, strokes of color imperfectly abut and in some places bleed into one another, even as the meticulously delineated borders of the crosshatch system are clearly obeyed. The unifying architectonic structure of the grid, clearly discernible beneath dense layers of color comprising a network of crosshatches, elucidates the process by which Johns arrives at the final composition. Executed in 1995, over two decades after Johns first adopted the crosshatch pattern in 1972, Usuyuki reflects the studied diligence with which Johns approaches his artistic practice and the importance of this motif within his larger dialectic. The present work belongs to a larger body of crosshatched compositions within Johns’ oeuvre that he also titled Usuyuki, a term which in Japanese translates to “light snow.”  

From within the pre-ordained parameters dictated by Usuyuki’s strict crosshatch motif, sharp staccato strokes of color ricochet off each other and erupt in a tightly controlled cacophony of color and line. Dense layers of watercolor paint associated as complementary colors – red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow – weave together and coalesce to form a coherent and impenetrable system. Usuyuki exhibits chromatic variation not only between units, but also across the composition as a whole; some passages emerge brighter in color, while others appear darker, as if in shadow. Black lines overlaid on top of the colored parallel markings reinforce the repetitive structure of the composition and give the image as a whole a prevailing unity, facilitating a seamless movement across the triptych and endowing the composition with a rhythmic pulse and visual depth. Geometric circles punctuate the crosshatch motif, their flat, stenciled appearance interrupting the unrelenting depth of the watercolor crosshatch and adding to the visual complexity and mesmerizing effect of the overall composition.

Commenting on the dramatic import of the serendipitous, gestural brushstroke of Abstract Expressionism, Johns here appropriates this gesture but inverts its meaning: Johns negates the individuality and expressive spontaneity associated with Abstract Expressionism by turning these strokes into repeated units within a predetermined patterned sequence. Although appearing to entertain the gestural spontaneity of Jackson Pollock, Johns assigns this abstract pattern an objectivity through its title, its association to an experience within everyday life, and through its carefully measured, pre-mandated configuration. In the exhaustive density of its surface and laborious application of each individual brushstroke, Usuyuki triumphantly celebrates Johns’ inexhaustible passion for mark-making.

That the abstract crosshatch pattern apparently lacks obvious narrative content undoubtedly appealed to Johns, as did the motif's potential to take on deeper significance. With his Usuyuki series, Johns radically broke from his customary practice of avoiding illusionistic and evocative titles for his works. Usuyuki is a Japanese term for a light, falling snow and is also the title of a famous Japanese Kabuki play about desire and the transience of life and death. Johns assigns the term “Usuyuki” objecthood within his artistic vernacular; he transforms “Usuyuki” into a recurrent readymade within his own iconography, one that references the transience and the regenerative cyclicality of life. Just like the predetermined format of the American flag, the crosshatch pattern consists of a given sequence of strokes, a compositional template that creates a meticulous set of instructions. Johns suggests that like the flag and the target, the crosshatch pattern can act as a preexistent vehicle through which Johns investigates color and material, although Usuyuki’s origins in the visual barrage of everyday life are not as immediately discernible. Usuyuki exemplifes Johns' inimitable style in which he applies the gestural language of the Abstract Expressionists with his inclination towards 'things the mind already knows' to create a wholly unique motif, dizzying and seductive in its kaleidoscopic prism of thrilling colors.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York