A Banner With a Strange Device
By James Fenton
Jasper Johns: A Retrospective 1996-January 21, 1997.
exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York October 20,. Catalog of the exhibition, by Kirk Varnedoe, with an essay by Roberta Bernstein
Museum of Modern Art/Abrams, 408 pp., $32.50 (paper)
They did not all live in vain, those American sculptors of a century ago. They did not all fall off the cliffs on the path to Interlaken, like Roderick Hudson (or die like Longfellow's inexplicable banner-bearing youth). They survived Europe and they survived those Alps and they came triumphantly back. Masters of skills acquired in Paris and Rome, they returned to a country which looked to them to provide--what they were only too eager to supply--public expressions of spiritual values, the spiritual values of the state. Roderick, Henry James tells us, nearly swamped the gondola with the violence of his response when he perceived 'that the only thing worth living for was to make a colossal bronze and set it aloft in the light of a public square.' His historical contemporaries felt much the same.