Jasper Johns (b. 1930)

Target with Four Faces

Jasper Johns (b. 1930)
Target with Four Faces
signed, dated and inscribed 'J. Johns MARCH-APRIL '79 STONY POINT' (lower right)
ink on plastic
28¾ x 22¼ in. (73.1 x 56.5 cm.)
Painted in 1979.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1979
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery and Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, Jasper Johns Drawings 1970-80, January-March 1981.
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Cologne, Museum Ludwig and Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jasper Johns: A Retrospective, October 1996-January 1997, pp. 302 and 306, no. 173 (illustrated).


Jasper John's Targets, like his Flags, were amongst the most groundbreaking works of art since the Second World War. Taking figurative subjects from the world around him that already straddled the line between object and symbol, things that were, 'seen and not looked at,' Johns threw the entire nature of representation and interpretation under a bracing new scrutiny (Johns, quoted in R. Francis, Modern Master: Jasper Johns, New York, London & Paris, 1991, p. 21). Executed in 1979, Target with Four Faces is a drawing on plastic which forms a reprisal and variation of the 1955 encaustic and collage work of the same title, now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. As in the original, the concentric circles in this drawing provide an abstract design that nonetheless has an instant meaning to the viewer. And crucially, those circles mean that this work could actually serve the purpose of a target. Considering targets can be made of paper, of plastic, or of other materials, just what is it that makes this a representation of a target, rather than a target in its own right? It was with this ontological paradox that Johns had turned the previous assumptions of art upside down.

By taking the target as his subject, Johns was emphasising the active role of the viewer, the idea that the gaze is itself a form of invasion or attack. He was also pre-empting criticism, overtly asking for trouble by openly giving the art world something at which to aim their barbs. It was only too appropriate, then, that his 1955 Target with Four Faces had been the first of his works to be reproduced in a publication; it was also illustrated on the cover of Artnews in 1958. Johns went on to trace that cover, and returned to this and similar processes of self-cannibalising appropriation during the 1970s. In Target with Four Faces, he has performed conceptual somersaults by taking his own back catalogue as his cue for an exploration of representation: the provenance of the motif has added new dimensions of complexity. It is not only the target design that provides a readymade, but also the canon of John's own work and the manner in which and frequency with which it is now publically received. While adding to the self-containment and self-referentiality of the work, Johns was hijacking it from external sources, allowing him to shun invention in order to present something that was already in and of the world around him, while also exploring notions of creativity. Crucially, Target with Four Faces has allowed him to explore creation: by taking the pretext of this "found" image that he knew only too well, he found a template that allowed him to investigate, in a highly gestural and innovative technique, the entirety of the picture-surface itself: 'the accomplishment of the drawing is what I have in mind when I work' (J. Johns, quoted in R. Fine & N. Rosenthal, "Interview with Jasper Johns", pp. 69-83, Rosenthal & Fine, The Drawings of Jasper Johns, exh.cat., London, 1990, p. 83).