How Ray Johnson's contrarian sensibility inspired mail art
Selected Writings by Ray Johnson 1954-1994
$45.00 List Price
From our current vantage, it’s not hard to acknowledge that one of the presiding spirits of early-twenty-first-century art is Ray Johnson’s. Collagist, painter, poet, and the originator of mail art, Johnson took up the appropriative strategies of Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns, infused them with John Cage’s ideas about Zen and chance, and energized the mix with his own brand of deadpan Conceptualism. The art he made beginning in the early 1950s until his death in 1995 purposefully merged artist, artmaking, and art object in ways that were once disquieting but are now considered routine. The strong strain of performativity and self-reflexiveness—qualities that mark the work of artists such as Matt Freedman and Ryan Trecartin—was the animating force behind Johnson’s collages and texts and, more pointedly, what he chose to do with them. Rather than show in galleries, he mailed his work (often multiple Xeroxes) to hundreds of people, and encouraged them to embellish it and send it out again. The republication of his artist’s book The Paper Snake and the selection from his voluminous letters in Not Nothing are an opportunity to sample one of the most subversively witty intelligences to paste, draw, and type in the last half century.
A twenty-two-year-old Johnson arrived in New York in 1949 after studying at Black Mountain College, where he met, among others, Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Willem de Kooning; in the city he soon made contact with like-minded artists such as Johns, Cy Twombly, and Robert Rauschenberg. Within a few years, he knew everyone on the scene. No less ambitious