Jasper Johns “Target with Plaster Casts”

Target with Plaster Casts, Jasper Johns, 1955
Encaustic and collage on canvas with objects,
129.5 x 111.8 cm (51 x 44 in), Collection Mr. and Mrs. Leo Castelli

Robert Hughes, “Shock of the New”

“The target is a test, and Johns took it with a sort of deadpan irony to test what one expects a work of art to do. For a painted target automatically negates the use of a real one. Once a target is seen aesthetically, as a unified design, its use is lost. It stops being a sign and becomes an image. We do not know it so clearly. Its obviousness becomes, in some degree, speculative. The center is not more important than the rings. In “Target with Plaster Casts”, the target’s five rings present themselves as painting alone: an even edible skin of wax encaustic, no part of it visually “superior” to the rest. Despite its target format, the painting is actually in the tradition of visual “all-overness” a continuous matrix of marks that ran from Seurat to Jackson Pollock. The idea of putting a bullet through it seems absurb. What would one aim at? A sign which can only be stared at becomes a painterly image which must be scaned. Meanwhile, the plaster casts of bits of the human body, set in their boxes above the painting, are transformed in exactly the opposite way. Their anonymity as specimens, twice removed from life – first cast, then dipped in monochrome paint – makes them like fossils or even more, like words, signs that stand for classes of things. “Ear”, “hand”, [“Mouth,”]: one would like to see them as elements of a portrait, but they canot be read in that way. They are images turning into signs. And so, in “Target with Plaster Casts”, two systems of seeing are locked in perfect mutual opposition, the sign becoming a painting and sculpture becoming a sign.”

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