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The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials

Confessions Back

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
Finlay Fine Art

Chapter 35. The Case of Jasper Johns’ Figure 1

I recently purchased a 16 x 12 inch framed photo-mechanical reproduction of Figure 1 at a local thrift store for $4.99. My reproduction of Figure 1 is from Johns’ celebrated colour lithograph series 0 through 9. He also did the same series as lithographs using black ink only.

Jasper Johns, Figure 1

Jasper Johns, Figure 1 (1969), lithograph, 373&Mac218;4 x 31 in.

Johns’ image has some striking resemblances to a photograph of the January 1968 crash site of a United States Air Force B-52 Stratofortress. The crash occurred 7.5 miles west of Thule Air Base, Greenland while the B-52 bomber aircraft was on a Cold War alert mission over Baffin Bay. Alert missions were a Cold War deterrent against Soviet attack and involved B-52 bombers with nuclear payloads in the air for 24 hours a day. Johns may have seen a photograph of the crash site and used it as a basis for his image.

In Figure 1, part of a sheet of newspaper from the Washington Post circa 1968 has been incorporated into the lithograph. Most of the page from the newspaper has been overinked; however, the full text of an article entitled The Recall to Reality by Joseph Alsop (reprinted in The Watertown Daily Times, Friday August 2, 1968) is visible, just to the left of the figure. Alsop’s article suggests that the military might of America needed to be vigorously maintained to serve as a bulwark against the spread of the Soviet empire. He vilifies the aggressive stance taken by the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc and warns of the potential for nuclear catastrophe.

The visual references to a rocket launch and inter-continental ballistic missile are clearly suggested by Figure 1. The imagery symbolizes the Cold War reality of military aggression, the space race and the fear of communism by overtly framing Cold War anxiety in terms of a nuclear catastrophe.

As for Johns’ legacy, in 2009, some forty years after the creation of Figure 1, a signed and numbered lithograph from this edition sold for $18,750 at a Sotheby’s New York sale, including buyer’s premium.

Aerial photograph of 1968 crash of B-52 Stratofortress in Greenland

Aerial photograph of blackened area of ice where a B-52 carrying 4 nuclear weapons crashed near Thule Air Base in January 1968

Since 1987 only six images from the 1969 edition have came up for auction and prices have remained relatively constant at around $18,000.

The first online recorded sale on the secondary market occurred at Sotheby’s New York in 1990, just a few months after the Berlin Wall came down, soon after Ronald Reagan’s admonition to the Soviet Union to "tear down this wall"; thus in a very real sense proclaiming the official end to the Cold War.

It is interesting to note that continued and robust sales of this artwork may serve as a testament to the “triumph of capitalism” both in political terms and consumer economy.

Next: The Case of Fritz Stehwein

 Sat, Feb 16, 2013