Jasper Johns’s “The Dutch Wives” (Harvard Art Museum)

Jasper Johns is an artist one finds difficult to love, and then, on reflection — and often against a backdrop of crisis or doubt — comes to love wholeheartedly, soberly, sincerely. He is an artist for grown-ups. He might seem reticent, puzzling, at times willfully tangled up in himself. But if you are struggling to make sense of art, life, or any conceivable combination thereof, he is not the bafflingly forked path he can seem, but rather a guide, one who won’t take your hand but will instead send you back out on your own, your sense of the mystery renewed and expanded.

Johns, 82, is one of the giants of modern art. If his work derives directly from that holy trinity of modern art — Cezanne, Picasso, and Duchamp (Father, Son, and errant Ghost) — there are times when it seems every major postwar development in art, from Pop and Minimalism to Process Art and Conceptualism, derives from him.


Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe