Presented to inaugurate the Menil Drawing Institute’s new building, The Condition of Being Here: Drawings by Jasper Johns follows how both chronology and recurrence function in the art of Jasper Johns. Motifs such as a target or a flag, for example, might appear, then recur decades later. Spanning 50 years of Johns’s career with works from 1954 to 2014, the exhibition maps introductions, continuities, and breaks among motifs, rather like the separate but parallel tracks that age and memory follow.
The title of the exhibition comes from a notebook entry Johns made in 1968: “Remove the signs of ‘thought.’ It is not the ‘thought’ which needs showing. The application of the eye. The business of the eye. The condition of a presence. The condition of being here.” Johns described his now-canonical paintings of flags and targets as of “things the mind already knows.” By making, or re-making, things the mind already knows, the act of making reveals how both perception and presence are constructed and formed.
Drawings in graphite, ink, charcoal, watercolor, colored pencil, acrylic, water-soluble encaustic, pastel, powdered graphite, gouache, and oil stick on surfaces ranging from paper to plastic reveal the diversity of means at play and show the artist’s technical mastery. Johns reveals the very possibilities of what drawing can be.
The Condition of Being Here includes gifts promised to the Menil Collection by Janie C. Lee and Louisa Stude Sarofim, works from the bequest of David Whitney, and select loans from the artist. Added to the one drawing collected by the de Menils, the Lee, Sarofim, and Whitney gifts make the Menil one of the largest holders of the artist’s drawings in the world. The catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Jasper Johns is in preparation, and it will be published under the auspices of the Menil Drawing Institute. A catalogue for The Condition of Being Here: Drawings by Jasper Johns will be published for the opening of the exhibition.
This exhibition is generously supported by Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Susan and Francois de Menil; and the City of Houston.