Jasper Johns: Seven Decades

From the recent Mind/Mirror exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art


Target with Four Faces, 1955
Target with Four Faces, 1955



Decoy, 1971




Numbers, 2007



Untitled, 2021

At age 91, Jasper Johns continues to produce works of art.

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What Were You Thinking? Chicago Cubs vs. New York Giants, Sept. 23, 1908

Fred Merkle
Fred Merkle

Any discussion of the biggest gaffes in Major League baseball history usually starts in 1908 and involves a New York Giants first baseman named Fred Merkle. Merkle had a long career, making his debut in 1907. Before retiring in 1926, he played for the New York Giants, Brooklyn Robins, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees. Over that time he produced a career batting average of .273. He played in more than 1,600 major league games and had 1,580 base hits.

But none of those hits proved to be as memorable as his baserunning on Sept. 23, 1908 in a game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Cubs at the Polo Grounds. This was a big game. The two teams were tied atop the National League standings and the season was fast drawing to a close. When Giants first baseman Fred Tenney turned up unfit to play, Merkle got his first major league start.

The score was tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth and things were looking good for Merkle. With two out and a runner on first he slapped a single, moving the potential winning run to third base. When the next batter, Al Bridwell also singled, the apparent winning run crossed the plate. As Giants fans ran onto the field to celebrate, Merkle, rather than running to second, headed straight to the clubhouse. Cubs second baseman, Johnny Evers, came up with a ball (in the confusion there are conflicting views on whether it was really the game ball), touched second base and Merkle was called out, nullifying the run.

Johnny Evers
Johnny Evers

The next day’s New York Times, under the headline “Blunder Costs Giants Victory,” described it like this:

“Censurable stupidity on the part of player Merkle in yesterday’s game at the Polo Grounds between the Giants and Chlcago placed the New York team’s chances of winning the pennant in jeopardy. His unusual conduct in the final Inning of a great game perhaps deprived New York of a victory that would have been unquestionable had he not committed a breach in baseball play that resulted In Umpire O’Day declaring the game a tie.

“With the score tied in the ninth inning at 1 to 1 and the New York’s having a runner, McCormick. on third base waiting for an opportunity to score and Merkle on first base looking for a similar chance, Bridwell hit into center field. It was a fair hit ball and would have been sufficient to win the game had Merkle gone on his way down the base path while McCormlck was scoring the winning run. But instead of Merkle going to second base to make sure that McCormlck had reached home with the run necessary to a victory, Merkle ran toward the clubhouse, evidently thinking that his share in the game was ended when Bridwell hit the ball into safe territory…

“Umpire O’Day finally decided that the run did not count, and that inasmuch as the spectators had gained such large numbers on the field that the game could not be resumed O’Day declared the game a tie.”

Polo Grounds
Polo Grounds

Writing in the Sept. 25 Washington Post, reporter Ed Grillo, suggested Merkle had no reason to be in such a hurry: “It was because Fred Merkle was anxious to get to the clubhouse on Wednesday that the New York and Chicago clubs got into a muddle. Just because he was in such a great hurry to get his uniform changed for his street clothes a riot almost ensued and yet Merkle, like most ball players, had nothing to do after the game was over.”

The Louisville Courier-Journal on Sept. 30 sympathized: ““There isn’t a sorer man in baseball than Fred Merkle, the Toledo boy with the Giants. Fred’s foolish play in the game which robbed New York of a victory after the Cubs had been beaten may cost the New Yorkers a pennant. If it does, what a sorry chap Merkle will be. The play only illustrates that baseball is complicated and so full of surprises that it always pays to play every point of it for all it is worth.”

How complicated would it have been to run to second base? One can only imagine. The Giants did in fact lose out on a trip to the World Series that year. This, of course, was an era with no wild cards and multiple playoff series. It was the regular season champion of the National League versus the regular season champion of the American. The Cubs and Giants finished the regular season tied for first place. In a one-game playoff on Oct. 8 at the Polo Grounds, the Cubs won 4-2. They would go on to defeat the Detroit Tigers by four games to one in the World Series. Then it would be another 108 years before the Cubs were crowned champions again.


Baseball’s dumbest plays:

New York Giants vs. Washington Senators, Oct. 10, 1924

St. Louis Cardinals vs. New York Yankees, Oct. 10, 1926

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, July 4, 1976

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Jaspar Johns’ Flags

Jaspar Johns flag

From Mind/Mirror exhibit, Whitney Museum of American Art

Three Flags, Jaspar Johns, 1958

Johns has made more than 40 paintings of flags.

White Flag, Jaspar Johns, 1955

Johns first American flag painting was done in 1954, two years after he was honorably discharged from the Army.

Flag above white with collage, Jasper Johns, 1955

Before painting his first flag in 1954, Johns destroyed all of his previous works of art.

Flags, Jasper Johns, 1965

Johns claims that the idea of painting the American flag came to him in a dream.

Jasper Johns flag

Johns has never given any indication that there is any symbolism or political implications in his various depictions of the American flag.

Two flags, Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns flag
Jasper Johns flags
Ventriloquist, Jasper Johns
Whitney poster, Jasper Johns flags
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What in the World is an Empathic?

The Empathics are futuristic beings who can shape shift and time travel.. They can, for example, alter their genetic makeup to merge it with plants. They are the creation of a mixed racial, binational artist named Saya Woolfalk. She was born in Japan, raised in Westchester County, N.Y., and currently lives in Brooklyn. Woolfalk is known for mixed-media installations that use science fiction and fantasy and focus on the theme of hybridity.

These photos are from Woolfalk’s recent exhibition at the Newark Museum of Art. Field Notes from the Empathic Universe was created after researching the museum’s plant specimens and landscape paintings. It is intended as a view of these from an Empathic perspective.

Elevator doors by Saya Woolfolk
The Field Notes from an Empathic Universe exhibit began in the elevator. These are the elevator doors that opened onto the second floor and into the Woolfalk exhibition.

No Placean Anatomy, Saya Woolfalk
No Placean Anatomy
Mindfulness Activated Future Possibility Generator 1.0
Leaving the exhibit, you walk back into the elevator and see this on the back wall.
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Modern Art, Ancient Tradition, from Africa and the Diaspora

from the Newark Museum of Art

Epa/Elefon Headress with Warrior, ca 1920s, Bamgboye of Odo Owa, Nigeria
Epa/Elefon Headresss with Warrior, ca 1920s, Bamgboye of Odo Owa, Nigeria
Anima Mundi, video installation, 2014, Theo Eshetu, born London, raised in Senegal and Ethiopia.
URM Queen Najiya Hadizatu Ahmedu Magajiya of Knubwada, George Osodi
URM Queen Najiya Hadizatu Ahmedu Magajiya of Knubwada, George Osodi, 2012, Nigeria
Fragile Cargo XVIII, Serge Alain Nitegeka
Fragile Cargo XVIII, Serge Alain Nitegeka, 2014, born Burundi, lives Johannesburg
Outer and Inner Head, Osi Audu
Outer and Inner Head, Osi Audu, 2002, born Nigeria, lives in Woodstock, N.Y.
They Always Appear, Ibrahim El-Salahi
They Always Appear, Ibrahim El-Salahi, 1965, born Sudan, lives UK
Man With Bicycle, unkown
Man With Bicycle, unknown Yaruba artist, Nigeria, mid-20th century

More African art from the Newark Museum of Art.

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The Warhol Silkscreens

Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ

Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol
Marilyn Monroe
Saint Apollonia, Andy Warhol
Saint Apollonia
Mao, Andy Warhol
Sunset, Andy Warhol
Hammer and Sickle, Andy Warhol
Hammer and Sickle
Campbell Coup Cans, Andy Warhol
Campbell’s Soup Cans
The Last Supper, Andy Warhol
The Last Supper
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Mana Contemporary

Mana Contemporary, Jersey City

Mana Contemporary is an arts center with three locations: Chicago, Miami and Jersey City. Each location has exhibition space and also houses artists studios. These photos are from the Jersey City location. Like so many contemporary art museums it is housed in a old industrial building.

It is not the easiest place to visit. It is only open for four hours, one day a week (Saturday) and it’s not easy to find. Bring the exact address and check out the picture of the building because there are no signs and the entrance doesn’t face the street. It has a parking lot (a big deal in Jersey City), admission is free and you’ll see some great art.

threeASFOUR, Vesica Piscis
threeASFOUR, Vesica Piscis

Tension and Space, Nanxi Jiang
Tension and Space, Nanxi Jiang

Harass Me Not, Lenna Keshishian
Harass Me Not, Lenna Keshishian
Nyx (Goddess of Night), Jongbum Kim
Nyx (Goddess of Night), Jongbum Kim
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From Slavery to Capitol Hill: Josiah Thomas Walls

Josiah Thomas Walls was used to dodging bullets. He did it as an active Civil War veteran. He dodged an assassin’s bullet while campaigning to represent Florida in Congress. And once elected, he dodged the bullet thrown at him by a House committee that unseated him only to be re-elected twice.

Walls was the first Black representative elected in Florida and he remained the only one until the 1990’s.

Josiah Thomas Walls

He was born a slave in 1842 in Winchester, Va. His owner, Dr. John Walls, was likely his father. When the Civil War broke out he was conscripted to work as a servant in the Confederate Army. He was captured by Union soldiers in 1862 and emancipated. A year later he was serving in the Union army, a member of the United States Colored Troops. His service landed him in northern Florida where he remained after the war.

Walls was to serve three terms in Congress between 1871 and 1877. He was active and well-respected as a legislator. The New National Era, an African-American newspaper based in Washington, had this to say about Walls (Feb. 5, 1874):

“While active and earnest in behalf of the Civil Rights Bill and measures for the benefit of his people, Hon. Josiah T. Walls, the colored member from Florida, has the general interest of his State and nation at heart, and labors to promote them with commendable zeal. We have before us the speech of this gentleman before the Transportation Committee of the United States Senate advocating the construction of a canal through the peninsula of Florida, in which the advantages to national and international commerce, with the development of the resources of the State bordering on the Gulf are treated in a clear and able manner. When such speeches are being made, and such interest is being shown by colored men in Congress we have every reason to be proud, and to entertain high hopes for the future.”

A good deal of Walls time In Congress was spent on initiatives to support and benefit his Florida constituents. He was originally elected as an at-large congressman, thus representing the entire state. He sought funding to erect telegraph lines, courthouses and post offices. He advocated improvements to the state’s harbors and waterways and sought tariffs to protect Florida’s growers. As was the case with many of the Black Congressmen during the Reconstruction era, most of his proposals never made it out of committee and to the House floor.

Walls was originally elected as a Republican in 1870, going head to head against former slave owner and Confederate veteran Silas L. Niblack. It was during that campaign that an assassin’s bullet missed Walls by inches during a rally in Gainesville. Niblack contested the election, claiming canvassers had thrown out Democratic ballots. Walls had served most of his two-year term before the House voted in Niblack’s favor and Walls was unseated. Undeterred, he ran again in 1872 and was again elected.

Following his second term, Walls used his Congressional salary to purchase a former cotton plantation. He also bought a newspaper, the Gainesville New Era. 

Seeking a third term in 1874, Walls defeated a Conservative candidate Jesse T Finley in a vote that was pretty much strictly along racial lines. Again the election was contested. Finley claimed that some votes in Walls’ home Alachua County were invalid because Florida’s eligibility oath requirement was not correctly met. With Democrats now in control of Congress, Walls was again unseated.

Back in Florida, he had some considerable success as a farmer, growing cucumbers and tomatoes. After a freeze destroyed his crops in 1895, he took a position managing the farm at Florida Normal College (later renamed Florida A&M). He died in 1905.

The next time Florida would elect a Black representative was Carrie Meek in 1992. On that occasion the Tampa Tribune (Sept. 12,1992) looked back at Walls’ career:

“He survived three hard-fought campaigns. Walls was a spirited, bare-knuckle politician, but the tide was against him. The protection afforded by Reconstruction disappeared with the return to power of disenfranchised rebels. He quit politics in 1884, after one last lively but disastrous come-back effort.

“With the collapse of Reconstruction, racial segregation and oppression thwarted black political aspirations until the Civil Rights Movement forced passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And even with that, it has taken another 27 years for a Florida black politician to win a seat in Congress. Maybe Carrie Meek’s victory moves us a little closer to achieving the justice sought by Josiah Walls so many years ago.”


From Slavery to Capitol Hill posts:

Jeremiah Haralson

Jefferson Franklin Long

John Adams Hyman

John Roy Lynch

George Washington Murray

Robert Smalls

Benjamin Sterling Turner

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From Slavery to Capitol Hill: Benjamin Sterling Turner

“In the year 1865 two thirds of the city of Selma was reduced to ashes by the United States Army . The Government made a display in that unfortunate city of its mighty power and conquered a gallant and high-toned people. They may have sinned wonderfully but they suffered terribly. 

“War was once the glory of her sons, but they paid the penalty of their offense, and for one, I have no coals of fiery reproach to heap upon them now. Rather would I extend the olive branch of peace, and say to them, let the past be forgotten and let us all, from every sun and every clime, of every hue and even shade, go to work peacefully to build up the shattered temples of this great and glorious Republic.”

Those were the words of Alabama’s first Black congressman, Benjamin Sterling Turner, delivered on the floor of the House of Representatives on May 30, 1872. It was part of his appeal to gain funding to rebuild Selma. The Selma Times Journal, which reprinted part of Turner’s speech (Jan. 20, 2008) described Turner as a “good man who was born into slavery, yet was not embittered by it, and lived a lifetime serving his city, state and country well.”

Benjamin Turner

Reconstruction Alabama, was a bitterly divided society of radical Republicans, carpetbaggers, resentful Confederates, Klansmen and sundry other white supremacists. Turner was the most unusual of public servants, a moderate.

Turner was born in 1825 in North Carolina. His owner, a widow named Elizabeth Turner, took him with her when she moved to Selma. Ben Turner was 5 at the time. Turner learned to read and write, likely by sitting in with the family’s white children during their lessons. When he was 20, Elizabeth Turner sold him to W.H. Gee who was the husband of her stepdaughter.

Gee deployed Turner to manage his livery stables and the Gee Hotel in Selma. Turner married an enslaved woman named Independence, but she was sold to a white man who took her as a mistress. When Gee died, Turner was inherited by his brother, James Gee. Based on his experience, James Gee assigned him to manage the St. James Hotel in Selma. 

Turner’s education and experience served him well after emancipation and he became a successful farmer and merchant in Selma. He also set up a school for Black children there in 1865.

Turner first ran for Congress in 1870. His home district had a 52 percent Black electorate. He financed his campaign by selling a horse. His platform: universal suffrage and universal amnesty. He ended up winning 58 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Samuel J. Cummings.

Turner only had two years in Congress. He spent it tirelessly advocating for the people in his district. This included: seeking repeal of a tax on cotton, urging reparations for ex-slaves, and supporting various economic revitalization bills. His appeals fell on deaf ears as Congress acted on none of these initiatives.

When he was up for re-election two years later, the Black vote was split between himself and another Black candidate, newspaper editor Philip Joseph. As a result, the Democratic candidate Frederick G. Bromberg was elected with 44 percent of the vote.

Turner returned to his businesses, but suffered serious losses during the depression of the 1870’s. He was nearly penniless when he died in 1894 and was buried in an unmarked grave. 

More than 90 years later, in 1985, a group of Selma citizens, both Black and white, made donations to place a marker on Turner’s grave. The following year, at an unveiling of a portrait of Turner at the Old Depot Museum, the Montgomery Advertiser (Feb. 10, 1986), reported these comments from city leaders:

“’If John F. Kennedy had been aware of Benjamin Turner, he would have included him in ‘Profiles In Courage,’ said state Rep. W.F. ‘Noopie’ Cosby, D-Selma. 

“’It’s high time his courage has been recognized,’ Selma City Council President Carl Morgan said. 

“’This diverse group is more of a monument to him than the portrait,’ said state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.”


From Slavery to Capitol Hill posts:

Jeremiah Haralson

Jefferson Franklin Long

John Adams Hyman

John Roy Lynch

George Washington Murray

Robert Smalls

Josiah Thomas Walls

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From Slavery to Capitol Hill: Robert Smalls

“Darkness still blanketed the city of Charleston in the early hours of May 13, 1862, as a light breeze carried the briny scent of marshes across its quiet harbor.

“As thin wisps of smoke rose from the vessel’s smokestack high above the pilothouse, a 23-year-old enslaved man named Robert Smalls stood on the deck. In the next few hours, he and his young family would either find freedom from slavery or face certain death. Their future, he knew, now depended largely on his courage and the strength of his plan.

“At about 4:15 a.m., the Planter finally neared the formidable Fort Sumter, whose massive walls towered ominously about 50 feet above the water. Those on board the Planter were terrified. The only one not outwardly affected by fear was Smalls. ‘When we drew near the fort every man but Robert Smalls felt his knees giving way and the women began crying and praying again,’ Gourdine said. (Alfred Gouirdine one of the six other enslaved crew members.)

“As the Planter approached the fort, Smalls…pulled the whistle cord, offering ‘two long blows and a short one.’ It was the Confederate signal required to pass, which Smalls knew from earlier trips as a member of the Planter’s crew.

“With steam and smoke belching from her stacks and her paddle wheels churning through the dark water, the steamer headed straight toward the closest of the Union ships, while her crew rushed to take down the Confederate and South Carolina flags and hoist a white bedsheet to signal surrender.

“…(when) those on board the Planter realized they had actually made it to a Union ship. Some of the men began jumping, dancing, and shouting in an impromptu celebration, while others turned toward Fort Sumter and cursed it. All 16 were free from slavery for the first time in their lives.”

That story of how Robert Smalls stole a Confederate transport, freed himself and six other enslaved crew members and their families appeared in Smithsonian Magazine on June 13, 2017 (The Thrilling Tale of How Robert Smalls Seized a Confederate Ship and Sailed it to Freedom.)

Robert Smalls

When describing the accomplishments of Robert Smalls, it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s this daring escape and his later record as a naval war hero for the Union. He is seen as one of the key influences that convinced Lincoln to enlist Black men in the Union army. He led one of the first boycotts of segregated public transportation, an action that led to a city law in Philadelphia that integrated streetcars. He purchased the house of the man who had owned him as a slave. He created a school for black children in his home town of Beaufort, S.C., and started a newspaper in Beaufort. He also served a nearly unprecedented, for 19th century Black congressmen, five terms in the House of Representatives. 

Smalls was born in Beaufort in 1839 to a slave mother, Lydia Polite. His father is unknown. Smalls was owned by John McKee and worked in his house. McKee later moved to Charleston and hired Smalls out on the waterfront. He progressively held jobs as a lamplighter, stevedore foreman, sail maker, rigger and sailor. He married Hannah Jones in 1856. She was an enslaved hotel maid in Charleston. They had two children, a daughter named Elizabeth and a son, Robert Jr. It was out of fear that his family members would be sold and separated that he hatched his escape plant. Hannah, Elizabeth and Robert Jr. were on the Planter when Smalls sailed it to freedom. He had become an expert in navigating the waters around Charleston and along the coast. With the start of the civil war he was conscripted into the Confederate Army and stationed on the Planter, a ship that was being used to transport munitions. After Smalls escape he continued to work on the Planter which was repurposed as a Union troop transport.

Smalls’ war record was one of the advantages he brought into his political career. Another was his ability to speak Gullah, a dialect common in the South Carolina lowlands. Like many other Black legislators at the time, he benefited from a redistricting effort that clumped Black voters into a single district, in this case Smalls hometown of Beaufort was part of a southeast coastal district with a 68 percent Black constituency. In his first bid for a house seat, in 1874, he won with 80 percent of the vote. 

Smalls’ legislative record is marked by support of numerous civil rights issues as well as working to provide benefits for his coastal Caroline constituency. Most of the 19th century Black congressmen saw their Congressional representation limited to a single term, usually because of the voter suppression efforts of white supremacists. Smalls faced threatened violence, redistricting, voter intimidation and various legal maneuvers intended to unseat him, something that makes his five-term longevity all the more remarkable.

1876 saw the Democrats regain control of South Carolina, but Smalls still won reelection, defeating Democrat George Tillman with 52 percent of the vote. Having been unable to upend Smalls at the polls, the Democratic state government brought charges against him of accepting a $5,000 bribe while he had been a state senator. He was sentenced to three years, but released after three days while the conviction was appealed. He ended up being pardoned by Democratic Governor William Simpson in 1879 as part of a deal that involved dropping election law violations by Democrats. 

The conviction was an electoral liability and in 1878, with voter intimidation now widespread in his district, he lost to Tillman. He lost again to Tillman in 1880 but contested the election, claiming his voters had been frightened away at the polls. The issue came before the full House, and with Democrats boycotting the vote, those present voted 141-1 to seat Smalls. In 1882, he failed to gain the Republican nomination, but the man who did, Edmund Mackey, died shortly after winning the general election and Smalls won a special election to regain his seat. He would be reelected one more time, in 1884, easily outpolling Democrat William Elliot.

After Smalls left the House of Representative in 1887, there would not be another Black congressman from South Carolina until 2011.

Andrew Billingsly, author of Yearning to Breathe Free: Andrew Smalls of South Carolina and His Families, said of the former congressman, “Robert Smalls is one of the greatest heroes of his generation. He left a legacy of service and he was the undisputed political, economic and social leader of Beaufort County for half a century after the war.” (The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C., March 16, 1997).

Smalls was 75 when he died from malaria and diabetes in 1915. On the monument in the churchyard of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort where he is buried, there is an inscription of one of his quotes from the floor of the South Carolina legislature: “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”


From Slavery to Capitol Hill posts:

Jeremiah Haralson

Jefferson Franklin Long

John Adams Hyman

John Roy Lynch

George Washington Murray

Benjamin Sterling Turner

Josiah Thomas Walls

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