February 25, 2009
by Laura Shingles

Jasper Johns: Light Bulb

MCASD : La Jolla | 2/25/2009

What is it about a museum wall that makes everything hanging on it the object of a desire to seek higher meaning? The obligatory wooden bench allows visitors to sit for hours, waiting to be seduced by enlightenment. Jasper Johns: Light Bulb laughs politely at those who sit on uncomfortable benches for any reason other than to enjoy the artist’s work. In three exhibition rooms, you will find only one bench. And it’s not in the main room, either.

Jasper Johns’ light bulbs vary in texture and color. Some are drawn with crayon on Auvergne paper. Some in bronze or plaster, others on polyester film. Some with heavy shading, some with none at all. Whatever the style, it’s still…well…a light bulb. Johns reproduces the same objects fanatically—this exhibit includes light bulb renderings from 1958 through 1976—but each differs only in technique. Everyday things as everyday people see them. No higher meaning.

Johns isn’t telling us the real art in life is in the simple, commonplace object. This is a man who has Cezanne’s “Bather with Outstretched Arms” above his fireplace. He knows what art is. He isn’t suggesting we take his work as a cue to examine the things we stopped noticing. He doesn’t take himself that seriously (When Vanity Fair asked what he would most like to change about himself, Johns answered, “My inability to sing or dance”). Johns seems to be saying the time it took to shape the metal or draw the lines is all the meaning we need. It is possible that a light bulb, no matter whose hand drew it, can really be just a light bulb.

Jasper Johns: Light Bulb runs through May 10th at the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla. 

Tags: MCASD, Laura Shingles, Jasper Johns

1 Comment

I like the metal ones. When you make a sculpture of a lightbulb, it's not a lightbulb. It's a poem.
Eric Taggart made this post on 7/4/2009 at 9:00 am

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