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Jasper Johns--printmaker

September 20, 1987|ZAN DUBIN

An exhibit that examines the etchings of Jasper Johns, arguably the greatest printmaker of our time and a venerated painter, opens Tuesday at UCLA's Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery.

"Foirades/Fizzles: Echo and Allusion in the Art of Jasper Johns" focuses on prints he made for "Foirades/Fizzles," an illustrated book with text by novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett. The show features a total of 143 prints including framed pages from the book, 73 of the 150 trial proofs used to work up the book's images, and 32 other related prints.

Foirades is a French word that means fizzles in English, explained Cynthia Berlingham, associate curator of the Wight Art Gallery's Grunwald Center, which organized the exhibit. And fizzles , she said, is a word Beckett used to refer to each one of five sections in the book, a livre de luxe published by Petersburg Press in 1976 in a limited edition of 250.

"The literary subject of the text is really very hard to explain," said Berlingham, who assisted the exhibit's curator, James Cuno. "There is not a clear-cut narrative running through each chapter, nor is there any cohesive unit to each chapter.

"Also, Johns' images were not made in response to Beckett's text, unlike some illustrated books created as a true collaboration between artist and writer." In fact, Johns, 57, had not read the five fizzles when he started making his prints, Berlingham said, although the artist and author did discuss the project in 1973 before the work was begun.

However, Berlingham said, "Johns' art is visually and conceptually complex and intellectually challenging. He uses visual and conceptual themes and images that refer to his own work as well as to the work of others he admires. From both a content and technical point of view, the works (in the exhibit) are of great interest."

Many of the images in the exhibit (running through Nov. 15) Johns derived from a 1972 painting on view called "Untitled 1972," Berlingham said.

"The painting incorporates characteristic Johns motifs, including hatching and flagstones and casts of body part of legs, hands or feet. Johns characteristically reuses the same kind of motifs over and over."

Also on view are prints similar in style and content to "Untitled 1972" produced by Johns, a New York-based artist, in 1973 at the local Gemini G.E.L. Works that "allude to some images in 'Fizzles,' but include other characteristic Johns motifs such as American flags" complete the display.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will take up where the UCLA gallery leaves off with a comprehensive exhibition of Johns' prints from Oct. 1-Dec. 6. This exhibit, "Jasper Johns: A Print Retrospective," will feature about 175 lithographs, etchings, silk screens and monotypes representing 25 years of the artist's print works.

NEW HOLDINGS: The County Museum of Art has recently acquired four outstanding decorative art objects, a major Jackson Pollock drawing and a 5th-Century Chinese bronze bell.

Now on view in the museum's Decorative Arts Galleries is a cabinet by the Herter Brothers, whose name is synonymous with the finest quality American furniture of the late 19th Century; a pate-de-verre glass vase from the early 1920s produced by Francois Emile Decorchement; a 16th-Century pewter dish by Francois Briot, and a verre eglomise Pax, a liturgical painting produced in Northern Italy around 1480.

Jackson Pollock took crayon, pastel and gouache to execute the untitled drawing on view in the museum's Robert O. Anderson Building. The work exemplifies his pivotal period in the mid-1940s when he moved from impastoed surfaces and figurative references to his drip paintings, begun in 1947.

A pattern of interlacing serpents covers the surface of a rare Chinese bronze bell, or bo , now on display in the County Museum's Far Eastern Art galleries.

OUTDOOR ART: Los Angeles-based artists Betye Saar and Susan King are among eight California artists recently awarded a total of nearly $90,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts to create contemporary public artworks.

The two women were given $5,580 to construct "Biddy Mason's Place," a collaborative permanent public art installation planned for a steet-level pedestrian tunnel in a downtown Los Angeles parking garage now under construction. Their artwork will commemorate Biddy Mason, a former slave who won her freedom to become a community leader.

The endowment also awarded Richard Turner $7,155 for a permanent installation planned for the Cal State Fullerton campus; David Ireland was given $20,000 to collaborate with an architect on the design and fabrication of furnishings for Sausalito's Headlands Art Center; Bruce Nauman won $40,000 for a neon sculpture to adorn the UC San Diego campus, and Lisa Hein, Robert Jones and Heather McGill were awarded $7,625 for temporary installations to be placed on the grounds of San Rafael's Falkirk Cultural Center.

The Art in Public Places program of the endowment's visual arts division awarded a total of $417,625 (including the grants to California artists) for 24 projects to be made by artists around the country.

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