Jasper Johns has a way of making a flip thing into a deep thing. Take his current show at the Museum of Modern Art. It is called “Regrets.” The title comes from a rubber stamp. Johns uses the stamp as a quick and painless form of R.S.V.P. When people send him letters or cards asking him to do things he doesn’t want to do, he stamps the offending item with his “regrets” and then sends it back. Onerous obligation avoided. Problem solved.

“Regrets” Through September 1. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Used this way, the word “regrets” doesn’t have any regrets. There are no bad feelings involved. Not really. Johns wasn’t torn up about saying “no” to these requests. He didn’t have any deeper regrets. “Regret,” in this context, simply means, “a polite, usually formal refusal of an… More…