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Sculpmetal Numbers

Jasper Johns, American, born 1930

Made in United States, North and Central America


Sculpmetal on canvas

57 7/8 x 43 7/8 inches (147 x 111.4 cm)

Art © Jasper John/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

* Gallery 177, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor (Sachs Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Centennial gift of the Woodward Foundation, 1975

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    In his earliest paintings, Jasper Johns, one of the defining artists of the postwar period, depicted subjects familiar to everyone, such as letters, numbers, targets, and the American flag. But numbers, which Johns first painted in 1955, constitute an uncomplicated subject matter only apparently, for in fact these solid forms represent the ultimate abstractions: conventional signs of universal value for purely mental concepts. Here the numbers are standard commercial stencils used for labels or signage, presented in order from zero to nine according to a grid that seems to proceed inevitably from the format of the canvas. The gray medium is Sculpmetal, a commercial aluminum putty, the use of which exemplifies Johns’s investigation of the territorial blurring of narrowly defined mediums, such as sculpture and painting, that has been a leitmotif throughout his long and fruitful career. This painting likewise demonstrates the artist’s deliberate removal of the traditional indicators of personal expression: color, brushwork, and narrative. In Sculpmetal Numbers, the stencils incorporated onto the canvas render the abstract concrete, and the texture and tones of the putty give a sensuous dimension to the purely conceptual nature of the numerical signs. Typically, Johns has made an entirely literal statement to introduce profound questions about the intimate relationship between image and language, subject and object, matter and thought, painting and seeing. Ann Temkin and Carlos Basualdo, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 358–359.

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