Beer in Art #2: Jasper Johns’ Painted Bronze

Our second installment of “Beer in Art” is another favorite of mine, and one I’ve seen the original of at a Jasper Johns exhibition at Berkeley I saw in the late 980s with an artist friend of mine. It’s official title is “Painted Bronze,” though most people refer to by what it represents, Ballantine Ale cans. Johns actually cast two beer cans in bronze and then painted them to look precisely like ordinary beer cans. The work stems from 1960, and gave the same treatment to other ordinary objects, such a Savarin coffee can filled with used paint brushes.

One analysis of the work, from US History Companion:

Johns’s views were undoubtedly influenced by the iconoclasm of the earlier dada movement and particularly by his idol, Marcel Duchamp, whom he sought out in 1960. After their initial meeting, Johns made a gesture worthy of Duchamp when he cast two beer cans in bronze and then painted them to look precisely like ordinary beer cans. This triple entendre clearly indicated how deeply Johns was engaged in the criticism of orthodox aesthetics, particularly the aesthetics of gestural painting, which he often parodied.

In an interview from 1974, Johns explains a little bit about the point of Painted Bronze.

Painted Bronze, two cans of Ballantine Ale cast in bronze, was one in a series of sculptures that came to define Johns’ theories of reality; like the pop art that followed it, his experiments with context sought to reconstitute “ordinary” objects in such a way as to highlight the power of the perceptual over the physical world. In 1964 he explained, as fulsomely as he ever would, what it was he was trying to do: “I am concerned with a thing’s not being what it was, with its becoming something other than what it is, with any moment in which one identifies a thing precisely and with the slipping away of that moment.”

Although there’s nothing about this work, Wikipedia has a good overview of Jasper johns, as does Also, the overview at Area of Design includes a few of his representative works throughout his career.


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