“We all dance in John Cage shoes” was what Ray Johnson – pioneer of mail art and one of the most famous unknown artists in New York (New York Times) – supposedly once said. Johnson met Cage at Black Mountain College, where he studied until 1948. The principle of chance, which Cage derived from his reading of the Chinese book of oracles the I Ching, and the constructivism of the Bauhäusler Anni and Josef Albers, who taught there, inspired Johnson’s neo-Dadaist approach and his interest in silence and nothingness, with a lasting effect. When Johnson designed the November cover of Interiors in 1947, the magazine published a comment that accorded with how the artist later described himself: “Ray Johnson, the most modest of our cover artists, is, we guess, well under twenty. He refuses to give us any information about himself except that he is a student at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, mostly with Josef Albers.”1 Johnson collaged clippings from newspapers, magazines, comics and photographs, which he laminated onto cardboard and embellished with pen-and-ink illustrations and personal dedications; starting in 1955, he began sending these out to a network of hundreds of real and fictitious addressees as “Moticos”. Johnson used a cartoon bunny head as a kind of signet to mark his mail art deliveries. The bunnies also served as invitations to meetings at his legendary New York Correspondence School, which he called “Nothings” – a humorous answer to the happenings of the time, as well as to John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing”. Johnson’s “Nothings” – around thirty such meetings took place in the years up to 1977 – were organised like a kind of fan club of New York’s artist scene, with participants including Andy Warhol and Chuck Close. Johnson trained those around him to study ambiguity, to look for ambivalence, to question coincidences and to understand tricks. In 1980, he placed an ad in the art section of the New York Times to announce, “Ray Johnson/ nothing/ no gallery.”
1 Quoted in David Bourdon, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mailman”, Artforum (April 1995), p. 71.
In the exhibition:
Ray Johnson Ohne Titel, undated Black and white offset lithography 21,6 x 28 cm Maria und Walter Schnepel Kulturstiftung, Budapest
Ray Johnson Ohne Titel (VOID), 1964 Painted and labeled postcard, stamp: Collage by Ray Johnson 14 × 8,3 cm Maria und Walter Schnepel Kulturstiftung, Budapest
Ray Johnson Ohne Titel, 1960 Collage, painted cardboard 17 × 18,5 cm Maria und Walter Schnepel Kulturstiftung, Budapest
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