The Philadelphia Museum of Art announced today its acquisition of Catenary (I Call to the Grave), 1998, a painting by Jasper Johns (American, born 1930). It is a richly evocative work from a group of paintings, drawings, and prints informally known as the Bridge series, begun in 1997.
The Museum is acquiring Catenary (I Call to the Grave) through funds contributed in part by its Committee on Modern and Contemporary Art and other generous donors in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Museum in 2001.
Monumental in scale, Catenary (I Call to the Grave) measures 78 x 118 x 8 inches. It is brushed in tones of gray encaustic (pigment mixed with wax) inflected with strokes of red, green, purple and ochre, and a diamond-patterned harlequin motif appears at the far right. It also incorporates a sculptural element, consisting of a length of white string suspended across the canvas from wooden slats that tilt outward along the left and right edges of the painting. The word "catenary," a term usually associated with suspension bridges, describes the curve imposed on the suspended string by the force of gravity.
Catenary (I Call to the Grave) is the second painting by the artist to enter the Museum's collection. In 1975 the Museum received Sculpmetal Numbers (1963), as a gift from the Woodward Foundation, and over the years it has acquired a substantial number of Johns's prints. Catenary (I Call to the Grave) also joins an important group of paintings and sculptures that have been on loan to the Museum from the artist for many years. The painting has been placed on view in Gallery 171 of the Modern and Contemporary Galleries where it is presented in the context of four decades of Johns's work. This gallery contains such early images as Painting with Two Balls (1960) as well as paintings of recent years, including Fall from the Four Seasons series of 1986. These paintings are shown in dialogue with sculptures, including Painted Bronze (Ale Cans) and Painted Bronze (Savarin Can) of 1960.
Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: "Jasper Johns is one of the great artists of our time, and it delights us that his work can be seen to such eloquent effect in this museum. We are overjoyed to acquire Catenary (I Call to the Grave) upon the occasion of our 125th anniversary and so very grateful to the donors whose generosity helps make this possible. We are also deeply honored to have a remarkable group of works on long term loan from the artist, with which Catenary hangs. This wonderful painting finds compelling context not only in Johns's own earlier work, but in resonance with our collection of Paul Cézanne and Marcel Duchamp, to whose art he has given such profound attention."
"The new painting echoes and extends the formal devices and motifs in Johns's work on view at the Museum to an almost uncanny degree," said Ann Temkin, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. "It is an amazing instance of a work of art that reflects a lifetime of profound endeavor and bespeaks an artistic mind and spirit finding new beginnings."
Mr. Johns's association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art dates to 1969, when the Museum organized the first exhibition and catalogue of his graphic work, Jasper Johns: Prints 1960-1970. In 1989, the Museum organized the exhibition Jasper Johns: Work Since 1974, for the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where it won the Golden Lion Award. Johns's work has been on view at the Museum on many other occasions, and in many other guises. During the Museum's celebration of the centennial of Marcel Duchamp in 1987, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company gave a special performance of Walkaround Time (1968), which uses a set by Johns based on Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).
Catenary (I Call to the Grave) had not been seen by the public before being installed at the Museum. It is illustrated in the catalogue to the exhibition of the Bridge series organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Yale University Art Gallery in 1999-2000.
Jasper Johns's Catenary painting is one of a number of "collection-transforming" works of art being acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in celebration of its 125th anniversary. Other distinguished acquisitions include: a rare, 27-foot-long handscroll decorated with gold and silver woodblock designs of ivy, grasses and wisteria by the great 17th-century Japanese artist Honami Koetsu; Basket of Fruit, 1882, the first still life painting by Edouard Manet (French, 1832-1883) to enter the collection; the splendid 1773 double portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin by John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1813); the most powerful and fully-realized portrait of Benjamin Franklin, a marble bust of 1779 by Jean-Antoine Houdon (French, 1741-1828); and the superb Alvin O. Bellak Collection of Indian "miniature" paintings dating from the 16th through the 19th centuries.