Jasper Johns - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Artist, Sharon, Connecticut
    Collection of Leonard Lauder, New York
    A gift from the above to the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Leo Castelli Gallery; Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, Jasper Johns: Drawings 1970-1980, January 10–March 28, 1981

  • Literature

    Roberta Bernstein, Kirk Varnedoe, Jasper Johns, A Retrospective, New York, 2006, p. 302

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I was in Saint Martin at the time, and when I would go to sleep fragments of thought would run through my head at 90 miles an hour. One thought wouldn’t connect to the next thought, it was almost like images flashing.” – Jasper Johns

    Executed in 1979, 0 through 9 is a quintessential example of Jasper John’s iconic series of superimposed numerals. The 0 through 9 series was instigated in 1960 as a development from Johns’ early numeral paintings, which were debuted together with his flag and target paintings at his legendary 1958 solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York – heralding the beginning of a new, post-modernist era. The present work is one of fewer than ten 0 through 9 drawings executed between 1960 and 1995 as noted in the comprehensive Jasper Johns monograph published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1996. Executed in February 1979 at Johns’ residence on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, the present work is the first of most likely only three 0 through 9 drawings he would make that year with another, smaller, version currently on view at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Jasper Johns: ‘Something Resembling Truth’ retrospective in London. The title of the 0 through 9 series offers an enticing double entendre, describing both its numerical subject as well as the compositional device that encourages the literal act of seeing each number through the other. On a translucent plastic sheet, Johns has used black ink to centrally frame the enlarged outlines of numbers from zero to nine. The interweaving of these outlines results in an enticing, semi-abstracted and monochromatic image that is given further complexity by the addition of “crosshatching”, a pattern that Johns first explored in 1972 that would come to characterize his Cicada series from the mid-1970s. An exquisite example of Johns’ inventive graphic draftsmanship, 0 through 9 was notably selected by Johns and Leo Castelli for inclusion in the 1981 exhibition Jasper Johns: Drawings 1970-1980 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York that traveled to the Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles. It is testament to the significance of the present 0 through 9 drawing that it was acquired directly from the artist by the eminent collector Leonard Lauder, who subsequently gifted it to the present owner.

    With 0 through 9, Johns has returned to the central motif of the Arabic numeral to further his interrogation into how meaning is constructed in art. As with his trademark subjects of flags, targets and alphabetical letters, this theme evidences Johns’ groundbreaking strategy of taking as his subject those familiar, depersonalized and factual signs that are “seen and not looked at, not examined” (Jasper Johns, quoted in Gary Garrels, Jasper Johns: Seeing with the Mind’s Eye, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 2013, p. 13). At a time when the art world was still in thrall of Abstract Expressionism, Johns, alongside fellow Leo Castelli protégé Robert Rauschenberg, advanced a wholly novel paradigm. Their use of cultural signs and symbols and insistence on painting as an object crucially precipitated both the Pop Art and Minimalism movements in the 1960s. Taking the legacy of Marcel Duchamp to conceptual new pastures, Johns probed the very relationship between image and medium by embracing repetition and seriality as strategies to focus the viewer’s attention on the flatness and materiality of the pictorial surface.

    In Johns’ practice, draughtsmanship is elevated to a medium worthy in its own right to explore his conceptual pursuits. As art historian and curator Nan Rosenthal noted, “It would be more faithful to Johns’ modus operandi…to describe his characteristic activity with drawing as a form of deeply serious play, “postplay” rather than foreplay…In this sense it is art about art and about the shifting nature of meaning” (Nan Rosenthal, The Drawings of Jasper Johns, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990, p. 15). 0 through 9 essentially continues the same overarching conceptual notion that has driven Johns’ painterly practice, namely that the very act of mark-making carries as much meaning as an artwork’s iconography. As Johns stated in the year of this work’s execution, “With a slight re-emphasis of elements, one finds that one can behave very differently toward [an image], see it in a different way” (Jasper Johns, quoted in Nan Rosenthal, The Drawings of Jasper Johns, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990, p. 15).

    0 through 9 is an exquisite example of Johns’ experimentation with material and technique to investigate the habits of perception. As with Johns’ early drawing 0 through 9 from 1961, the present work from 1979 is distinguished by his complex treatment of surface through subtle modulations of tonal values. While a companion drawing from the same year was rendered with washes and blotches of black ink on plastic, this composition is characterized by Johns’ signature cross-hatching technique, which is traditionally used to render three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. Constituting an “exquisite irony” given that numerals are typically linear and two-dimensional, as Nan Rosenthal pointed out with regard to the subtle modulation of the first major 0 through 9 drawing from 1961, “The use of this traditional cue for depth has the effect of stressing that the viewer perceives the numbers in depth, through one another” (Nan Rosenthal, The Drawings of Jasper Johns, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990, p. 132). In the two drawings from 1979 this effect is emphasized through the unconventional use of a translucent plastic sheet, which essentially removes the background from the work. Embracing chance into his artistic process, Johns underscores the central role of medium in the constitution of the art object. While the intricate cross-hatching and layering of line in 0 through 9 suggests pictorial depth, the plastic sheet reveals it to be an utterly flat, nearly non-existent, one.

    By transforming the logical, objective clarity of the numerical sign into a more ambiguous, abstracted image, Johns visually deconstructs the signifier-signified binary that has long structured Western thought. The superimposition of the numerical progression in the present work injects the pictorial space with a sense of time that performs the very process of its making and at the same becomes a metaphor for the multiplicity of meanings inherent to the singular image. 0 through 9 brilliantly exemplifies Johns’ notion that the artist’s single creative act does not solely give rise to meaning, but that meaning in fact arises through the spectator’s act of deciphering and interpreting the work; that “any meaning we give to it [an art object] comes through our looking at it” (Jasper Johns, quoted Kurt Varnedoe, Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, 1996, p. 116).

  • Artist Biography

    Jasper Johns

    American • 1930

    Jasper Johns is a painter and printmaker who holds a foundational place in twentieth century art history. Quoting the evocative gestural brushstroke of the Abstract Expressionists, Johns represented common objects such as flags, targets, masks, maps and numbers: He sought to explore things "seen and not looked at, not examined" in pictorial form.  Drawing from common commercial and 'readymade' objects, such as newspaper clippings, Ballantine Ale and Savarin Coffee cans, Johns was a bridge to Pop, Dada and Conceptual art movements.

    Beyond the historical significance, each work by Johns is individually considered in sensuous form. A curiosity of medium led him to employ a range of materials from encaustic and commercial house paint to lithography, intaglio and lead relief.

    View More Works


0 through 9

signed, inscribed and dated "J. Johns 16 FEB '79 ST. MARTIN" lower right
ink on plastic
image 10 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (26.7 x 22.2 cm.)
sheet 16 3/8 x 13 7/8 in. (41.6 x 35.2 cm.)

Executed in 1979, this work will be recorded in the Catalogue Raisonné of the Drawings of Jasper Johns.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $975,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017