Seward Johnson

It looks like the bots at Pinterest are doing a pretty good job. Thanks to my having posted, in “Giantess Jackie” on the 2nd, a bit about Seward Johnson’s “Forever Marilyn” statue in Chicago, this morning Pinterest offered me a page of “New ideas for you in Sculpture”, entirely devoted to Johnson’s bronze oeuvre, for example this visual parody of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”, entitled “God Bless America” (now in Florida):


(The Marilyn statue, which excited some public outcry in Chicago, was moved to downtown Palm Springs CA in 2012 and is now visiting at the Johnson art enclave in New Jersey.)

On Johnson, from Wikipedia (I’ve boldfaced one bit that’s a gem of goofiness):

John Seward Johnson II (born 16 April 1930 in New Jersey), also known as J. Seward Johnson Jr. and Seward Johnson, is an American artist known for his trompe l’oeil painted bronze statues. He is a grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I, the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson, and Colonel Thomas Melville Dill of Bermuda.

He creates life-size bronze statues, which are castings of living people, depicting them engaged in day-to-day activities. A large staff of technicians perform the fabrication.

Johnson attended Forman School for dyslexics and University of Maine, where he majored in poultry husbandry, but did not graduate. Johnson also served four years in the Navy during the Korean War.

Johnson worked for Johnson & Johnson until he was fired by his uncle Robert Wood Johnson II, in 1962.

His early artistic efforts focused on painting, after which he turned to sculpture in 1968.

(There’s also a large dysfunctional family history that has some entertainment value on its own, but isn’t relevant here.)

His work, though popular, has often been panned as kitschy and Norman Rockwellesque, worthless as serious art.

Consider now (from Pinterest) this collection of Johnson’s bronze figures outside the train station in Hamilton NJ:


(I suppose this is Johnson’s correspondent to Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.) For an explanation of the figures and some understanding of Johnson’s popular reception, read this gee-whiz appreciation of the statues (“Hamilton NJ, sculpture capital of the world” of  6/18/12) by a blogger. (Close-up photos on the site.)

I don’t know if Hamilton Township in NJ is the sculpture capital of the world, but it’s probably pretty dang close. I didn’t even know about Hamilton’s Grounds for Sculpture. I didn’t even know Hamilton, NJ existed. So, it was quite a wonderful, little surprise to see these sculptures as we drove to the NJ transit station where we picked up the train into the city.

There are three dancing pairs based on three different Renoir paintings, and two mariachis. The whole scene is a bit surreal mainly because they’re in front of a train station and that struck me a being kind of odd, but in a cool ‘wow, look at the huge Renoir people’ amazement way.

This is Johnson’s audience, which gives him the kind of appreciation denied him by critics who refuse to take his artistic intentions seriously. These critics lump his work with creations like the roadside fiberglass muffler man figures I’ve written about several times, while Johnson wants to be seen as an artist like Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons, exhibiting works in public places, including museum shows. (For this, he has, in effect, created his own exhibition space in New Jersey, home of Johnson & Johnson.)

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