Please Send to: Ray Johnson, Selections from the Permanent Collection
Organized by Jess Frost, Associate Curator of the Permanent Collection at Guild Hall
October 20 – December 16, 2018
Drawn from Guild Hall’s permanent collection, Please Send To: Ray Johnson will feature over 30 works by the famously reclusive artist. The majority of these works are classified as Mail Art, a movement pioneered by Johnson and the New York Correspondence School he formed in the 1950s. The artist sent small, mixed-media works to a network of fellow artists through the post, instructing them to intervene in the original work and/or forward the materials to another person. Mail Art offered Johnson alternative modes of circulating ideas and gaining recognition, rather than working within the existing hierarchy of the art establishment. One could argue that his subversive methods of sharing art anticipated the digital dissemination of images through platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
At the height of Johnson’s Mail Art experiment, recipients were often dismissive of the eclectic materials he sent, and frequently declined to follow his peculiar directives. Yet in retrospect, the cryptic arrangements of notes, doodles, newspaper clippings and rubber stamped texts in these works offer great insights into the shifting social dynamics of this fertile period in American art. As viewers try to decode the visual information in each work, they are drawn into Johnson’s complex observations about his immediate art orbit and aspects of society at large.
For all his reclusion, trickery and use of marginal materials, Ray Johnson cannot be sidelined as an outlier. He began his art education as a teenager, taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. Johnson later enrolled at Black Mountain College, where he studied under Josef Albers and Robert Motherwell, and befriended artists like Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, and John Cage. After moving to New York in the 1950s, Johnson embraced the city’s art world and worked alongside prominent figures like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.Download PDF (273.1 KB)