Jasper Johns: Catenary

Peter Schjedahl in The New Yorker:

“Jasper Johns: Catenary,” a large show of paintings, drawings, and prints at the Matthew Marks Gallery, is advertised as a return to form. In the opening sentence of the catalogue’s introduction, the art historian Scott Rothkopf writes, “Johns’s paintings had grown too full”—conceding, in a remarkable gambit of damage control, a widely felt distaste for the artist’s works of the nineteen-eighties and nineties, which were “jam-packed with signs of Johns’s life and art.” (Those signs included allusions to Leonardo, Grünewald, Duchamp, and Picasso; dolorous references to an unhappy childhood and encroaching death; recyclings of the artist’s signature motifs; and coy hints of private meaning.) Rothkopf hastens to his good news: “Johns wiped the slate clean.” Would that it were so. Johns has only reduced the number of elements in works that still bespeak self-imitative pastiche, and tied them together, almost literally, with real and drawn catenaries. (A catenary is the curve assumed by a cord hanging freely from two points.) Sagging strings cross most of the paintings, at times attached to thin wooden slats that may be hinged or cantilevered at the edges of a canvas. The new works do reëmphasize the cynosures of his painterly genius: tone and touch. Subtly varied, tenderly stroked grays in mixtures of oil paint and wax predominate. But those plangent qualities, once so moving, feel forced here.

More here.