Jasper Johns Artwork Priced at $40?

This is a guest post by Aaron.

Washington Post (12/18/1960)

Washington art fans might have unwrapped some top-notch holiday gifts in December 1960.  A hip gallery just south of Dupont Circle featured the work of up-and-coming artists for a brief Christmas sale.  New prints from Jasper Johns were on display – and everything was relatively inexpensive.

“Not to be missed is a new group of lithographs by the talented newcomer Jasper Johns, who takes such subjects as a target, a coathanger or the American flag and gives them a new meaning by his treatment of them.”-Washington Post, 1/1/1961

“Among the artists in the Christmas show at the Jefferson Place Gallery are William Calfee, Robert Gates, Robert Goodnough, Jasper Johns (a series of new lithographs), Frederic Thursz and Yektai, in works ranging from $40 to $250.”-Washington Post, 12/18/1960

In 2012 currency, that would be $300 to $1,900.  Quite a bargain for an early Johns lithograph.  He was just getting started.

“In 1960, Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) founding director Tatyana Grosman encouraged Johns to work on lithographic stones, and he completed five prints and began his celebrated 0–9 series.”-Phillips Collection press release, 2/21/2012

Corpse and Mirror II – 1976 (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The Phillips Collection will soon host an exhibit of Jasper Johns prints.  It will be the 81-year old painter/printmaker’s first show at the museum – and one of only a few times he’s been featured in a D.C. exhibition (according to The Post).  But I was surprised to see that some of his first lithographs were shown just a quick walk from the Phillips so many years ago.

The Jefferson Place Gallery moved around a few times.  Dupont residents might recognize the street name – it’s the short, quiet block between Connecticut Avenue and 19th Street, just south of N Street.  At the end of 1960, the gallery sat on the corner of its namesake Jefferson Place at 1216 Connecticut Ave., NW.

Does the address sound familiar?  It’s the current home of Shake Shack.

Oh, worth noting… I’m not certain any Johns pieces were purchased during that brief Christmas sale (12/13/1960 to 1/7/1961).

Jasper Johns is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Jasper Johns is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (WH.gov)

But Jasper Johns did pretty well for himself.  And Washington eventually took notice.

Last year, Johns was in town to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  He was the first painter or sculptor since 1977 to nab the nation’s highest civilian honor.


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