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Jasper Johns: High-Priced but Little or Nothing for Sale

An upcoming show of works by Jasper Johns (May 7-June 25) at the Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, will give collectors their first opportunity in eight years to see his new pieces. None of the 38 paintings, drawings and prints is for sale however.

NEW YORK—An upcoming show of works by Jasper Johns (May 7-June 25) at the Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, will give collectors their first opportunity in eight years to see his new pieces. None of the 38 paintings, drawings and prints is for sale however.

These pictures, all from a “Catenary” (a thin curved shape hanging from upper-right to lower-left quadrants) series the artist pursued from 1997-2003, were sold as soon as they were completed and “never shown in New York,” says gallery owner Matthew Marks. All 38 pieces are borrowed from collectors here and abroad, and from the artist himself. The only item for sale at the gallery is a $50 book on Johns’ entire 61-piece “Catenary” series.

Marks notes that paintings start at $2 million. Drawings on paper (in ink, pastel or graphite, at sizes of 24-by-30 inches and 30-by-40 inches) begin at $400,000; and intaglio prints (etchings and drypoints, mostly) range from $15,000/50,000.

These days the artist, who turns 75 in May, produces one or two paintings “and a handful of works on paper” a year, the dealer states, and he often holds on to artworks rather than selling them.

Consequently gallery exhibitions of Johns’ work tend to be infrequent, with just a fraction of the pieces on view for sale.

Last September a show of eight recent prints and drawings by the artist at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, contained only a few works that collectors could buy—prints for $20,000 and drawings for “several hundred thousand dollars,” reports gallery owner Barbara Castelli—but everything for sale had already been bought.

Johns was long represented by the Leo Castelli Gallery when Leo Castelli himself was still alive; today the gallery still “works” with the artist. Marks, too, says that he works with Johns and has done so for seven years.

The highest price paid for a Johns work at auction is $17 million, for the oil False Start, sold at Sotheby’s in November 1988 (estimate: $4/5 million).

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