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Jasper Johns’ sculpture of 1958-61 can be seen as an expression of his admiration for the art, intellect, and person of Marcel Duchamp and constitutes an act of homage to the artist 43 years his senior.
Through a series of intuitive leaps and intellectual conceits, Johns responded to particular aspects of Duchamp’s art and thought through the forms of his sculpture, such that an act of homage gave rise to an art of originality., April 1980 It has been over twenty years since Jasper Johns executed his first sculpture, Lightbulb I of 1958.
Three years of highly concentrated sculptural activity followed, during which time the bulk of his three-dimensional images were created: the variations on the lightbulb and flashlight themes, the painted bronze ale cans and Savarin can with brushes, and the “biting” critic pieces.
Subsequently, the production of sculpture has remained an extremely limited aspect of this otherwise highly prolific artist’s oeuvre.
Certain factors indicate that the sculpture of 1958-61 is of the utmost personal significance to the artist.
The images developed in the sculpture have continued to stimulate his mind and energies up to the present day, particularly in the graphic medium, the most conspicuous recent example being the poster Johns created for the 1978 Whitney retrospective which featured the image of the 1960 Savarin can sculpture juxtaposed with the more contemporary crosshatchings.
When Johns recently revealed his intention to return to the production of sculpture, his plan was to execute sculptures based on the early motifs—apparently to duplicate a bronze version of a flashlight that had been stolen and to create certain variations on the flashlight theme that had been conceived but never executed.
Also significant in this context is the fact that Johns has retained a good deal of the sculpture for his personal collection and that when certain pieces, such as the The personal importance of these works to the artist can be understood if we consider that he began to produce sculpture concurrent with his “discovery” of Marcel Duchamp.1 Johns found in Duchamp a mentor—a distinguished older master with whom he shared patterns of thought, conceptions about what art should be, and a delight in wit, ambiguity, and paradox.
Whereas Johns’ painting and graphic work have long been examined and reexamined with regard to the artist’s professed admiration for Duchamp, such discussions of Johns’ sculpture have not yet ventured beyond the notion of the sculpture as extensions of the Readymades.