Research Methodologies - Reflective Task - Primary Research / by Ally McGinn

The following is a short report (500-word limit) about an element of primary research. I have chosen an exhibition that had a big impact very recently. (More about that in a later post)

'Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth’

Exhibition visit - 10th October 2017

This exhibition is currently running at the Royal Academy in London. The show covers the career of Jasper Johns, an American artist whose work has been extremely influential and iconic since the late 1950’s.

The show brings together over 150 works, from over seven decades, curated by Dr Roberta Bernstein and Edith Devaney, who worked closely with the artist.

This short text hopes to articulate one of the important elements of this exhibition and give an overview of the important observations made when experiencing the work, as opposed to seeing it.

Beginning with the iconic image of ‘Target’ the exhibition was arranged chronologically, but each room was a thematic exploration, meaning there were occasionally works shown from different time periods.

Each room contained a short text, examining the theme of the room and marking that perspective in the minds of the audience, or at least those who chose to read it.

Given the brevity of this text and my potential verbosity on the subject, I am going to focus on a single room – ‘Painting as Object’.

The accompanying text explains the artists interest in the objectness of a painting (including stretcher and frame) and the particular interest in pre-existing objects.

Many of the works in this room feature objects used in the creation of art, extending to the creation of the painting they are a part of. This inclusion of materials speaks about the nature of process and the reality of a painting as opposed to its illusory qualities.

Johns features other objects, notably rulers – an object that directly references the space of the painting, again speaking about illusion and the nature of painting vs the reality of it.

Seeing these works in person highlights the importance of this and the mild-hypocrisy of discussing these works without seeing them when their context is in their objecthood.

The inclusion of objects into the paintings and the artists' perception that paintings are objects is hard to experience second-hand. Their size, texture, shape, presence, form and meaning is altered when seen first-hand.

In particular, the piece ‘painting with two balls’ which is composed of three canvases, hung together to form a single piece. The two top canvases are slightly curved, leaving a gap between the two, into which the artist has placed two painted balls.

This piece confronts the viewer directly with the objecthood of the painting. We can see through the canvas to the wall behind, the balls cannot exist without the depth of the frame. It is an extremely successful example of message and aesthetics combining into a pleasing visual narrative.

The text links these material inclusions to Duchamp’s readymades and the chance inclusions of the Dadaists. In the documentary ‘Painters Painting’ Johns is interviewed and states that he was not aware of the work of the Dadaists or Duchamp prior to beginning these works, given the artists involvement with this exhibition the text becomes questionable.

The retrospective nature of the exhibition of a master manifests in the delivery of this exhibition. The audience is guided through the context of the work, often with explanations or accompanying information. This is in direct contrast to more contemporary galleries in London where the information is contained in a document that the viewer needs to find; even names are excluded in contemporary galleries.

These works are already considered masterpieces, and their creator a master. The audience is aware, due to the reputation of the location, the status of the artist and the presentation of context, that these are ‘Artworks’, there is no question of their validity, only how we might perceive it.

The primary experience, especially when considering the context, has been singularly important to understanding the works and the potentiality of including objects. John’s message is balanced with an aesthetic skill that is inspirational as well as impressive.


Examining the impact of this exhibition on my own practice is not something achievable in 500 words, (in fact the document I have begun to write is already over 2000) which was what I originally planned this document to explore.

For me, the important aspect of this task was narrowing down. Which I think I am going to continue to use when forming my future blog posts.

I enjoy research, particularly writing, and while it is important that I continue to do it, I need to remember that these posts have an audience, and therefore the word count is an important factor.  The audience does not need to read all the research and my thoughts on it, just those I want to share at that particular moment.

Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth (2017) [Exhibition]. Royal Academy, London. 23 September - 10 December 2017.

Marriner, R. (2015) Making and the Contemporary. Bath Spa University. October-December 2015.

Painters painting: a candid history of the modern art scene. (1973) [DVD] Emille de Antonio. USA: Arthouse films.

Testar, A (2017) Jasper Johns ‘Something Resembling Truth’. [Exhibition catalogue] Royal Academy, London. 23 September - 10 December 2017.