Johns showed interested in Munch's art. His first direct encounter with Munch was at an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1950, when Johns was 20. We do not know much about what kind of impression Munch's art left on the young Johns, but some 25 years later – from the late 1970s – references to Munch started appearing in his work. This was a period of important changes in Johns' art, in terms of both motifs and form. He started including figurative elements, spatial perspective, references to time and existential issues in his pictures. He has been inspired by Munch's treatment of topics such as love, fear, illness and death, among others. At the same time he was also interested in Munch's experimental approach to art.
With this exhibition we aim to show that Munch has had a far greater influence on Johns than was previously known. The exhibition consists of about 130 works – paintings, prints, drawings and photographs. An important factor is the way Munch's late self-portrait Between the Clock and the Bed (1940–1942) is linked to Johns' series of abstract cross-hatch works that became something of a signature motif for him in the 1970s. The similarity between Johns' cross-hatch pattern and the pattern on the bedspread in Munch's self-portrait was not originally intended. However, from 1980–1984 Johns chose to use this similarity explicitly in a series of paintings with the same title as Munch's painting.
Johns (born in 1930) made his breakthrough on the American art scene in the latter half of the 1950s, with paintings based on widely known symbols like the American flag, targets, numbers and letters. His art broke with the subjective and spontaneous painting of the abstract expressionism that had dominated American art in the 1940s and 1950s. Together with artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Johns was a precursor to the 1960s' pop art in the US.
Jasper Johns+Edvard Munch is organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, in partnershop witht the Munch Museum. The exhibition’s international tour is made possible through a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Additional major support provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.
After its spell at the Munch Museum, the exhibition will be shown there in autumn 2016. The curator of the exhibition is John Ravenal, the former curator at VMFA, and the current director of the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum outside Boston, USA. Ravenal is the editor of the exhibition catalogue, which is published by Yale University Press. It is fully illustrated and contains an article written by Ravenal.