For the U.S. Pavilion at Expo, in Montreal in 1967, Jasper Johns painted a work called "Map (based on Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Airocean World)." It is an elaborate statement of themes developed in the last seventeen years by an artist whose work is neither realistic nor abstract. Johns' subject is pre-existing signs and systems of signs and this holds true for his paintings of targets, the Stars and Stripes, numbers, words and maps.
In the early 1960s he painted four maps, of which Max Kozloff observed that in them Johns was "playing with the notion of measurement, in which the locked-in diagrammatic 'in scale' dimensions of map images are contrasted with the virtually gratuitous dimensions of painterly gestures." The first map is a tiny picture belonging to Robert Rauschenberg, the second is a flurry of red, yellow and blue, the third is monochrome, and the fourth is a combination of both color schemes. The second disregards the state lines freely, but the third follows the arbitrary boundaries conscientiously. These maps are all of the United States, but the new one at the Modern is a world map and correspondingly larger. It measures 15 feet high and 30 feet long and is painted in triangular sections derived from Fuller.
The map's central point of reference is the North Pole, and the world is arranged around it in accordance with Fuller's definition of the Arctic as the shortest route between the 12 per cent of the world's population in the Americas and the 88 per cent who "dwell in the Asia-Europe‐ Africa quadrangle." Johns's version of it is densely painted in a mix of encaustic, pastel, charcoal and collage. Within an overall gunmetal-gray base color are place names stenciled in color (mainly, but not consistently, they radiate from the Pole) and bits of collage. These include a winter scene from a comic strip with "BRRRRR" in a speech balloon, an allusion not only to climate but to a 1960 painting by Andy Warhol.
In appearance the painting is ungainly, splayed jaggedly on the wall, taking its form from Fuller's triangulation. This is not, I think, a failure on Johns's part; on the contrary, it is a part of his move away from____________________