Jasper Johns. Flag. 1954-55  (dated on reverse 1954)

Jasper Johns

Flag

1954-55 (dated on reverse 1954)

Medium
Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels
Dimensions
42 1/4 x 60 5/8" (107.3 x 153.8 cm)
Credit
Gift of Philip Johnson in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Object number
106.1973
Copyright
© 2017 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Department
Painting and Sculpture
This work is on view on Floor 4, in a Collection Gallery, with 6 other works online.
Jasper Johns has 331 works online.
There are 2,320 paintings online.

“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns has said of this work, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” Johns has said, but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection. A critic of the time encapsulated this painting’s ambivalence, asking, “Is this a flag or a painting?”

Gallery label from 2011

When Johns made Flag, the dominant American art was Abstract Expressionism, which enthroned the bold, spontaneous use of gesture and color to evoke emotional response. Johns, though, had begun to paint common, instantly recognizable symbols—flags, targets, numbers, letters. Breaking with the idea of the canvas as a field for abstract personal expression, he painted "things the mind already knows." Using the flag, Johns said, "took care of a great deal for me because I didn't have to design it." That gave him "room to work on other levels"—to focus his attention on the making of the painting.

The color, for example, is applied not to canvas but to strips of newspaper—a material almost too ordinary to notice. Upon closer inspection, though, those scraps of newsprint are as hard to ignore as they are to read. Also, instead of working with oil paint, Johns chose encaustic, a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has left a surface of lumps and smears; so that even though one recognizes the image in a second, close up it becomes textured and elaborate. It is at once impersonal, or public, and personal; abstract and representational; easily grasped and demanding of close attention.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 232

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA's collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

If you would like to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA, please contact Scala Archives (all geographic locations) at firenze@scalarchives.com.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA's archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.