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Medal of Liberty

Medal of Liberty
incised with the artist’s signature, date and foundry mark ‘J. Johns 1960-86 ©’ (right side edge); incised with the number ‘A.P.' (on the reverse)
4 1/2 x 6 5/8 in. (11.4 x 16.7 cm.)
Executed in 1960-1986. This work is an artist’s proof aside from an edition of twelve, plus six artist’s proofs, one working proof and one irregular cast.
Gloria and David L. Wolper, Hollywood
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Bernstein, Jasper Johns, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculpture, vol. 4, New York, 2016, pp. 110-111, no. S55 (another example illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Executed between 1960-1986, Jasper Johns’ Medal of Liberty was a created alongside an edition of twelve commissioned by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to be presented to twelve individual outstanding naturalized citizens by President Reagan on July 3, 1986 on the occasion of the unveiling of the restored Statue of Liberty. Beyond the official twelve editions, Johns’ also created six artist proofs that were distributed to recipients including Leo Castelli. Cast in bronze and containing the artists signature subject, Medal of Liberty exists as a testament to future of a nation and the celebration of its storied past.

In 1954, Jasper Johns was still in his 20s and living in New York when he first dreamt that he painted an American flag. From that night on, Johns’ fascination for the object blossomed into a body of work analyzing the societal and social impact behind something that holds a plethora of meaning beyond the red, white and blue. Executed nearly ten years after that initial dream, the present example entitled Medal of Liberty takes away the traditional color scheme and grandiose scale often associated with the flag. Formed by bronze and only subtly hinting at the outline of stars and stripes, Johns is still able to produce a piece that speaks both to his skills as an artist and encapsulates the subject matter he is so famous for.

The iconography of the American Flag came to Johns in a moment when he was living and working in near isolation, ignoring the debates and generational frustrations raging in the avant-garde of the time, searching to find his own way and identity within the scope of art and his contemporaries. By placing the flag in a new context, by surprising the viewer and locating it within the realm of art, Johns has brought new wonder to a symbol among the most commonly known. Medal of Liberty, created during the time of the Vietnam war, further enhances that vision as it evokes at once the generational hope of the post-war period, as well as the turbulent years after. The subject of the “Flag” held an immense influence on art, placing Johns at the vanguard of contemporary art during the late 1950’s onward. In its emphasis on its own status as an object, Jasper John’s flag is the precursor to Minimalism while simultaneously acting as a reintroduction of the use of imagery from the everyday, launching the entire movement of Pop Art.

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