After serving in the army, Jasper Johns returned to New York in 1953 and worked in a bookstore while trying to decide whether he wanted to be a poet or a painter. Within two years he had created iconic images such as Flag and White Flag, and three years after that four of his paintings were in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. From 1955 to 1961, widely considered to be the period of his greatest work, Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were lovers. Although they never spoke about their relationship, they were invited everywhere as a couple. (Despite the anti-gay atmosphere of the McCarthy era, the 1950s saw a great flowering of art by men whose orientation was an open secret: Paul Cadmus, George Platt Lynes, George Hoyningen-Huene, Andy Warhol, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Christopher Isherwood, W.H. Auden, James Merrill & David Jackson, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Lincoln Kirstein, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Langston Hughes, Philip Johnson, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean.) According to Jonathan Katz, Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s relationship was the deepest of their entire lives and “the after-effects were so powerful that both artists left New York for their native South, changed their pictorial styles radically, and neither saw nor spoke to one another for a decade or more.” Indeed, Johns has never talked about it, though Rauschenberg finally discussed it with Interview magazine in 1990. Johns exhibited new work in 2005; Rauschenberg died a year ago this week.