Jasper Johns from The Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection

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“I’m partial to drawings,” said Jasper Johns. “They often have a modesty and thoughtfulness that I enjoy.” The seven drawings by Johns in the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection bring the artist’s quote brilliantly and indelibly to life. From various moments in Johns’s long career, these works epitomise the most essential aspects of the artist’s practice, from his interest in appropriating everyday imagery in the service of the unexpected to his absolute precision and control of his media through meticulous mark-making. Johns’s works also provide a point of connection to the broader context contemporary art, and the artist’s influence is evident in the Collection’s examples by Brice Marden, Saul Steinberg, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein. Indeed, Johns’s intellectual rigour and understated brilliance are qualities that permeate this scholarly collection. Click ahead for an in-depth look at the works by Jasper Johns in the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction
16 November | New York


Jasper Johns from The Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection

  • Jasper Johns, Numbers. Estimate   $2,500,000–3,500,000.
    Numbers from 2006 is a mature example of Johns’s exploration of the most significant issues addressed thorughout his body of work: representation, form and how meaning is conveyed through signs and symbols. This particular Numbers is striking for its large size of just over three feet by two-and-a-half feet, not atypical for a painting but certainly rarer for a work on paper. 

  • Jasper Johns, Flag. Estimate $1,000,000–1,500,000
    The American flag as it appeared in 1950, featuring 48 stars and 13 stripes, became an image through which Johns would repeatedly explore through various mediums. “Using the design of the American flag took care of a great deal for me because I didn’t have to design it,” Johns said. “So I went on to similar things like the targets – things the mind already knows. That gave me room to work on other levels.” Executed in a variety of materials, including gesso, pastel, graphite, pencil, ink, watercolour and acrylic, these works are testament to the artist’s ceaseless fascination with both the image of the flag and the many ways in which it could be represented. 

  • Jasper Johns, Untitled. Estimate $800,000–1,200,000
    The years 1973 to 1983 were a critical decade during which Johns radically embraced pure abstraction and became consumed by a serial crosshatch pattern. Dated 1980, Untitled is rendered in a sumptuous monochrome with black ink pen drawn directly on a plastic sheet. The nonabsorbent property of the plastic surface forces the diluted ink to break down and invariably pool across the composition while drying, exposing the tonal and textural depth within the pigment itself. This medium endows the work with visual depth and underscores the conceptual tensions that underlie Johns’s larger oeuvre.

  • Jasper Johns, Untitled. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    In many of his abstractions, Johns negates the individuality and expressive spontaneity associated with the Abstract Expressionist gesture by turning that gesture into repeated units within a predetermined patterned sequence. The motif apparently lacks obvious narrative content, but through this very ambiguity, it has the potential to take on deeper significance, creating tension and confusion. ”A large unidentifiable form dominates the image, and two bulging eyes desperately try to discern what is the identity of that mysterious body,” writes art historian Mark Rosenthal of this work in the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection catalogue. “From doubled to unknowable, the certainty of identity is constantly being mooted by Johns.” 

  • Jasper Johns, Study for ‘Fall’. Estimate  $600,000–800,000.
    In 1987, New York dealer Leo Castelli presented Jasper Johns: The Seasons, an exhibition featuring four large-scale encaustic works on canvas and their preceding studies, including Study for Fall. The series meditates on the passage of time; Fall represents middle age – Johns was 55 when he executed the final painting, and it is the only one of the four that the artist kept in his personal collection. The main figure is split in half, the ladder is snapped, and the objects tumble down. A particularly rich precursor to the final work, Study for Fall focuses on objects rife with personal meaning for Johns: a vase and mug by the great American ceramicist George Ohr and a Rubins vase amid jumbled fragments of canvas all suggest an autobiographical portrait of and an intriguing catalogue of clues to the source material for the artist’s output.

  • Jasper Johns, Usuyuki. Estimate $2,500,000–3,500,000.

    An incredibly rich and accomplished exercise in colour theory executed on a grand scale, Usuyuki is an exceptional example of Johns’s widely celebrated crosshatch motif. With the gestural fluidity characteristic of the watercolour medium, strokes of colour 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 colour comprising a network of crosshatches, elucidates the process by which Johns arrives at the final composition.

  • Jasper Johns, Untitled. Estimate  $800,000–1,200,000
    Untitled from 1988 is among a limited number of works featuring the female head motif from Pablo Picasso’s Woman in a Straw Hat, which Johns first saw in David Douglas Duncan’s book Picasso’s Picassos. Anchoring the composition on the right is an intimate vignette of a Rubins vase, tilting precariously into a thumbnail image of Picasso’s Woman in a Straw Hat. This particular Picasso held immense appeal for Johns, given its bizarre composition of forms and latent sexuality, which creates a psychological resonance not dissimilar to the art of the Surrealists. Johns has flipped the image so that the woman faces in, her nose pointing to the left toward the Rubins vase, a motif that appears elsewhere in Johns’s output. A complex and intensely engaging work on paper, this drawing is an elegantly rendered, highly complex pastiche of Johns’s most significant influences.


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