Jasper Johns said “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” In this case, the “object” that the artist manipulates is the Latin alphabet, which is the foundation of written communication for hundreds of millions of people. Johns has removed the letters from their expected, everyday use, and arranged them in a wordless composition that borders on abstraction. By decontextualizing letters, the artist highlights them as timeless symbols that have been used to record knowledge from the time of their invention around 700 B.C. Written language can be a part of all aspects of life, from children’s building blocks to tombstone epitaphs, and are a consistent and significant theme in Johns’ work. Alphabets not only challenges artistic divisions between abstraction and representation, it merges universal and personal aspects of the human experience.
34 x 24 in. (86.4 x 61 cm) Framed: 35 1/2 × 25 3/8 × 1 3/8 in.
Jointly owned by Art Bridges and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
verso, u.r.: Alphabets / J. Johns / 1960-1962
(Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, NY); purchased by Robert C. Scull (1917-1986) and Ethel Redner Scull (1921-2001), New York, NY; to (Sotheby's, New York, NY) Contemporary Art from the Estate of the late Robert C. Scull, November 10, 1986; purchased by Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Karuizawa, Japan; to (Castelli Gallery, New York, NY), 2010; purchased by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, 2011; to Art Bridges, TX, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, as co-owners, 2018