Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Jasper Johns has a way of making a flip thing into a deep thing. Take his current show at the Museum of Modern Art. It is called “Regrets.” The title comes from a rubber stamp. Johns uses the stamp as a quick and painless form of R.S.V.P. When people send him letters or cards asking him to do things he doesn’t want to do, he stamps the offending item with his “regrets” and then sends it back. Onerous obligation avoided. Problem solved.
Used this way, the word “regrets” doesn’t have any regrets. There are no bad feelings involved. Not really. Johns wasn’t torn up about saying “no” to these requests. He didn’t have any deeper regrets. “Regret,” in this context, simply means, “a polite, usually formal refusal of an invitation.”
But there is another meaning of “regret” that has much more to do with feelings. We say things like “I will always regret how I treated her,” or, “I regret that I never kept on with my piano lessons.” There is a twinge of sadness in this kind of regret. It delves into the counterfactual. It carries the wish that things be otherwise. The sadness of this regret brings us back to the earliest forms of the word. At its Old French and English and Germanic root, the word “regret” has fundamentally to do with distress, with longing. It is a word related to “bewailing,” “lamenting,” “groaning,” and “weeping.”
When Jasper Johns started stamping his latest artworks with the word “regrets,” he was having fun, being ironic. But he was also playing with what underlies fun and irony. He was getting at the real core of irony, which is always about deeper meanings, profundities that are not apparent to those who look only at the surface.