In the mid-1950s, the New York-based artist Ray Johnson (1927–95) initiated a new form of artistic practice called “mail art,” in which participants received a letter or object in the post, added to or subtracted from that item, and then mailed it onward to another participant or returned it to Johnson. Through this process Johnson established a network of artists called the New York Correspondence School (NYCS), many of who still send and receive mail art today.
Robert Warner, one of the participants in this network, engages the legacy of this school both by sending mail art and creating art installations out of 13 boxes of NYCS ephemera that Johnson gave him in 1988. These boxes—which contain objects that speak to Johnson’s signature iconography (e.g. bunnies, cupids, snakes, postage stamps, etc.) as well as mail art works by the various members of the NYCS—constitute a veritable cabinet of curiosities, particularly when unpacked by Warner. For this exhibition, Warner will reinstall the boxes, this time emphasizing Box 13 which contains ephemera from a mail art event that Johnson organized in Illinois in 1974 through an Illinois Arts Council grant.
In addition to these more ephemeral gestures, the exhibition will also include 25 collages that Johnson made for gallery exhibitions. While Johnson is best known for his freewheeling mail art, he also produced exquisitely constructed collages that were built out of dense layers of NYCS ephemera and made to portray prominent artists, curators, and critics of the New York art world. Similar to the mail art, however, these portraits are collective—never simply of one person but of many.
Sponsored in part by Fox Development Corporation; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; and Krannert Art Museum