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Of all Jasper Johns’s recurrent early motifs that he famously described as “things the mind already knows,” none has appeared more insistently in his work than numbers.

Go to next theme: Leo Castelli, 1960

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Figures 0–9, 1969, by Jasper Johns
Figures 0–9, from Color Numeral Series, 1969, by Jasper Johns (American, born 1930) (Private collection) © 2021 Jasper Johns and Gemini G.E.L./VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

From the 1950s to today, he has created more than 170 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures that feature numbers, usually as individual figures, as superimposed compositions, or as sequences of 0 through 9, either in two stacked rows or arranged in larger grids.

Numbers are preexisting signs open to a variety of aesthetic and interpretative operations. Rendered in a wide variety of mediums and formats, they appeal both to the eye and the intellect. Numbers lack any specific proportion or color and so offer a blank slate for experimentation and play. In Johns’s work, they zoom in and out of scale and focus, flicker from one color to another, and disappear into or emerge from their changing backgrounds. Today, this potentially excessive, even manic, accumulation offers an artistic analogy for a digital age in which numerals function as the basic building blocks of data sets and code, evoking the ceaseless production, automation, and transmission of information that permeate our daily lives.

The corresponding gallery at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York focuses on flags and maps.

Image Gallery

All works by Jasper Johns. Unless noted otherwise © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

4 Leo</em>, 1970, by Jasper Johnsundefined
0 through 9, 1960, by Jasper Johnsundefined
Numbers, 1963, by Jasper Johnsundefined
Small Numbers in Color, 1959, by Jasper Johnsundefined