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Jasper Johns, famous for his paintings of American flags and targets, has long been fascinated by numbers. In fact, the artist’s earliest surviving work, Construction with a Toy Piano (1954), features a row of numbers. According to Johns, numbers bring order to a chaotic world, whether through speed limits, phone numbers, or coordinate points. Since the 1950s, Johns has featured the digits one through nine again and again in paintings, works on paper, and bronze reliefs—and this repetition is core to Johns’s artistic philosophy. He once summarized his practice in 11 words: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” While Johns is perhaps best known for his depictions of overlapping numbers, Figure 4 (1969)—a colorful painting of a single digit—holds the auction record for the series, selling for $17.4 million at Christie’s in 2007.

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