Please Add To and Return To: Mail Art Homage to Ray Johnson
Printed Matter is pleased to present “Please Add To and Return To: Mail Art Homage to Ray Johnson”, the culminating exhibition realized as part of Performa 2015, in collaboration with The Ray Johnson Estate. Spanning the back wall of Printed Matter’s new location at 231 11th Avenue, the exhibition puts on view hundreds of submitted works that were received in response to a mail art activation celebrating the life and work of artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995).
The exhibition will be on view at Printed Matter October 27-November 28 in two phases, with the installation turning over halfway through. Please join us for an opening reception, co-hosted with Performa and The Ray Johnson Estate on Friday, October 30th, 6-8PM. A panel discussion and set of performances in connection with the exhibition will be held at Printed Matter during the course of the exhibition, details forthcoming.
The exhibition on view extends a component of Johnson’s mail art practice in which he distributed “templates” with the instructions “Please Add To.” The artist would send these photocopies of his original drawings en masse via USPS, instructing recipients to “Return To Ray Johnson” or forward to someone else entirely. Upon return of work, Johnson would typically photocopy and recirculate the altered versions or add them to his archive.
As a special homage to Johnson in the year of the 20th anniversary of his passing, several of the artist’s mail art “templates” were placed back into circulation as a call to action for the next generation of Johnson enthusiasts. Performa asked all participants to simply “Please Add To and Return To.”
Submissions for the project were received from eighty-five cities in nineteen countries, demonstrating that Johnson’s legendary mail art practice continues to resonate.
Johnson’s body of work spans many media, and he is well known for his intricate and complex collages. His mail art project, The New York Correspondance [sic] School, utilized the postal system as a means of dissemination, circumventing the commercial art world and inviting others to collaborate. This egalitarian system of art creation and distribution, incorporating social interaction, inspired a vast international network of artistic exchange and collaboration that exists to this day.
In addition to re-circulated templates, the exhibition also puts on view Johnson’s original templates from 1976, which were distributed through 1990. Other “please add to and return to” mailings such as “The Starn Twins,” “Please Add Hair to Cher,” and “Ray Johnson Silhouette,” will be displayed.
Additionally, Printed Matter will have a station on-site for visitors to create new works on blank templates, which will be collected into the exhibition and placed on view in accompanying binders. Once received, all submissions are posted to a page on the Ray Johnson Estate website and become part of the Ray Johnson Estate archive.
Ray Johnson was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1927. After attending Black Mountain College, Johnson moved to New York City in 1949 with fellow classmates Richard Lippold and John Cage. An influence on and friend of key art figures including Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Jim Rosenquist and Jasper Johns, Johnson is associated with several art movements and groups, such as Pop Art, Conceptual Art, and Fluxus. Johnson continued to produce work until his suicide in 1995, an act that many consider to be his final performance. The artist is the subject of cult classic film How to Draw a Bunny and his work has been the subject of exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Kunstverein Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo; among others, and is included in renowned private and public collections. The Ray Johnson Estate is represented exclusively by Richard L. Feigen & Co.
Performa is a multidisciplinary non-profit arts organization, founded by art historian RoseLee Goldberg in 2004, dedicated to exploring the critical role of live performance in the history of 20th-century art and to encouraging new directions in performance for the 21st century, engaging artists and audiences through experimentation, innovation, and collaboration. Part of Performa’s mission is to present a biennial of visual art performance in New York City that illuminates the critical role of performance in the history of art as well as its enormous significance in the international world of contemporary art. The Performa 15 biennial dates are: Nov 1-22, 2015.
Artworks top to bottom by: Rebecca Brickman, David Price, Billy Frey