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Ray Johnson Defies Categories 20 Years After His Death - NYTimes.com
"Mr. Johnson heralded several art movements, almost simultaneously. He was making work that looked like Pop in the 1950s, years before his friend and sometime rival Andy Warhol did. He was a performance artist before there was a term for such a thing. He mined ground later occupied by Conceptual art (whose pretensions he loved to razz: “Oh dat consept art,” says a figure in one of his collages.) And he was the father of mail art, spreading his collages and Delphic text works through a vast web of fellow artists, friends and complete strangers, making him a one-man social-media platform for a pre-Internet age.

But every time mainstream recognition approached, Mr. Johnson — who lived as frugally as a monk and played the art world’s holy fool — seemed to dance away. Courted in the 1990s by the pinnacle of commercial acceptance, the Gagosian Gallery, he turned even that courtship into farce by demanding a million dollars each for collages then selling in the four-figure range; they’ve since advanced only into five figures.

“He was a guerrilla fighter against materialism and fame, and in a sense he’s still fighting today,” said Frances F. L. Beatty, president of Richard L. Feigen & Co., the gallery that represents Mr. Johnson’s estate.

But the art world may be finally starting to conquer Mr. Johnson’s will to resist it. A spate of books, exhibitions and museum acquisitions has come along in recent months, as his work has been discovered, yet again, by a generation of younger artists, like Matt Connors, Hanna Liden, Adam McEwen and Harmony Korine. This time, as money and power loom ever more powerfully in art circles, it seems to be Mr. Johnson’s role as a heroic-comic Bartleby that makes him particularly attractive to younger artists. But the shape-shifting ways in which he operated outside art’s normal channels — through the post office, street performances and artist’s books — also resonate for 21st-century artists whose work fits uneasily into the conventions of museums and galleries."



"Mr. Dugan said he had been drawn to Mr. Johnson in part because of his avid following among younger, punk-influenced artists but also those whose work seems to have little affinity with Mr. Johnson’s, like Mr. Connors, an abstract painter who is featured in “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World” on view now at the Museum of Modern Art.

In an email, Mr. Connors said: “I am always very excited by artists who create their own very specific codes, languages and grammars. He’s speaking his own language and talking to and about specific people, but he also loves to share it with you.” The effect is “kind of like a queer and gossipy downtown Joseph Beuys.”

For the show at Karma, Mr. Dugan was allowed to pore over reams of paper works in the Feigen archive, made by Mr. Johnson mostly in the last decade of his life, “and what I saw was a total discovery to me, because a lot of it was very raw and very punk,” he said. “Here was this guy in his 60s, and he’s still up to it, to the very end, pulling in new material from the culture and making this very weird stuff that feels very contemporary now.”

Ms. Beatty, who struggled for years to get Mr. Johnson to agree to a major exhibition at the Feigen gallery, remembered that he called her three days before he died. “And he said, ‘Listen, Frances, I’m planning to do something big and after that, you’ll finally be able to do your show.’ And I had no idea what he was talking about, but I thought maybe he was actually giving in, after playing cat and mouse for so long.

“Well, of course, little did I know, and that’s how it always was with Ray — how little did we know,” Ms. Beatty said, adding, “It was a lived-for-art life, 100 percent, all the way to the end.”"
rayjohnson  art  hieroglyphs  resistance  materialism  fame  2015  punk  symbols  mailart 
january 2015 by robertogreco
‘Not Nothing’ Tries to Capture the Artist Ray Johnson - NYTimes.com
"The Siglio book, edited by the poet Elizabeth Zuba, spans most of this history. The first entries, from the mid-1950s, are pure text, blocks of single-space typed prose. Gertrude Stein’s cut-and-paste approach to language is an obvious influence, jazzed up by Johnson’s penchant, verging on compulsion, for associative wordplay and puns.

Even when his work was text-intensive, though, he had an eye alert to shaping it visually. In a second 1950s piece composed of lists of isolated phrases — “Virginia gets tomahawk,” “regards têtes” — he slanted the lists diagonally across the page and turned half the phrases upside down, a graphic that could have been realized only by a radical reimagining of what a typewriter could do.

Johnson had his art heroes — Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters, Allan Kaprow, the Fluxus founder George Maciunas — whom he acknowledged in his correspondence work, placing their names alongside those of pop stars, art world potentates and personal friends. Name-dropping, if that’s what this was, is a recurrent feature of Johnson’s art, but it’s different than Warhol’s celebrity chasing.

Like Warhol, Johnson had an appetite for glamour and the politics of who-knows-who. But he was impatient with hierarchy. Warhol was a worshiper, Johnson a collector, a cataloger. In his work the same plane of importance is occupied by Marcel Duchamp, Anita O’Day and Toby Spiselman, a Long Island friend. It’s hard to imagine Warhol heading up an Anna May Wong fan club, but Johnson did. There’s a sense that for him all names are equivalent in value, are all collage elements, all “nothings,” or rather somethings, equally useful and even soothing in their sameness.

This is not to say that Johnson’s correspondences are embracing and warm. “Every letter I write is not a love letter,” he once wrote, and he wasn’t kidding. Wary distance was Johnson’s default position. When writing to people he didn’t know — Jacques Derrida, say — he could sound jumpy and twisty or haughty. Even in letters to close friends, like the historian William S. Wilson, his most astute biographer, Johnson tended to dance around difficult, intimate subjects.

He would almost certainly have leveled a cool stare at the 21st-century interest — amounting to a faith — in collectivity, collaboration and social practice as utopian models. Mail art, on the surface, looked democratic, nonelitist, even populist; theoretically, anyone could join in. Yet Johnson’s reports from New York Correspondence School meetings speak of members who were summarily banished from the roster for some infraction or other. Johnson himself, in what feels like a punitive spirit, dropped people from his mailing list. Was such policing meant to be tongue-in-cheek, mocking how the real world operated? Impossible to say. Johnson wore ambiguity like a shield.

Occasionally, though, we see him let down his guard, as in a 1975 letter: “I just can’t take it. Overload. My history is too much for me. By the way, the big emotional event of the year is the departure of Richard Lippold with a young Italian.”

For all the zany exuberance surrounding Johnson’s role as mail-art webmaster, there’s a lot of darkness in the book. Death is a running theme, in Johnson’s tight-lipped bulletins on the demise of artists (Albers, Eva Hesse) and weirdly repeated mentions of dead cats. He describes, with gusto, crushing insects in his apartment, and recounts, with bizarre hilarity, the killing of a rooster he witnessed at a boozy art party. His attitude in the telling is beyond irreverence, close to delight.

But was it really? Any conclusions drawn about Johnson’s psychology from his writing must be provisional. He was a master at covering his tracks. Even friends like Mr. Wilson, a frequent presence in his correspondence, felt they barely knew him. He might as well have been the E. T. that he sometimes looked like. We read the correspondences of artists and writers in search of some truth beyond what they give us in their work. But the only sure truth about Johnson is the work: pioneering, stimulating, witty, angry, exasperating and like no other. If there’s a lot we can’t know, that’s O.K. Mystery is part of his beauty and his lastingness."

[See also: https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:31e2f33614a6
http://kaleidoscope-press.com/2014/06/readray-johnsons-bookspublished-by-siglio-press/
http://sigliopress.com/book/not-nothing/
http://sigliopress.com/book/the-paper-snake/ ]
rayjohnson  collection  catalogs  lists  namedropping  hollandcotter  104  elizabethzuba  blackmountaincollege  bmc  mailart  art  overload  nothings  happenings  concretepoetry  poetry  writing  letters  fluxus  georgemaciunas  allankaprow  josephcornell  kurtschwitters  hierarchy  horizontality  death  irreverence  newyorkcorrespndenceschool  collectivity  collaboration  socialpracticeart  collectivism  ambiguity  2014  books 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson 1954-1994: Elizabeth Zuba, Kevin Killian, Ray Johnson: 9781938221040: Amazon.com: Books
"When Ray Johnson famously committed suicide by swimming out to sea in 1995, he left behind a conflicted legacy. Johnson was a pioneer of Pop, Conceptual and Mail art, yet the artist refuted all of these terms. He was an increasingly reclusive figure who, to paraphrase writer William S. Wilson, "made art that was not about social comment but of sociability," exploring new interfaces between his work and its audiences (and collaborators). His methods were temporal as much as they were spatial - lacking finality, Johnson's practice embraced contingency and process over a finished product. These strategies resist the exhibition form, and one can see how the intimacy and transportability of the book might offer the perfect platform for his often diaristic work. This year Siglio Press has brought together over 200 selected letters and writings - most of them unpublished - for Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson, 1954-1994 and re-published The Paper Snake by Ray Johnson, an artist's book from 1965. Designed by Dick Higgins and envisaged as an experimental solution to compiling and exhibiting Johnson's works, The Paper Snake offers a selection of elliptical poetry, drawings, collages and rubbings. With introductory essays, and designed with an attuned sensitivity to the original material, the two new publications will introduce a new generation to the restless work of Ray Johnson.(George Vasey Kaleidescope Magazine 2014-06-12)

[Above passage references The Paper Snake: http://www.amazon.com/Ray-Johnson-The-Paper-Snake/dp/1938221036/ ]

Not Nothing is a display of ashes. It is made for looking but, because of its reformulation of the social into a tangible maze, I prefer to torch and snort it. An experimental privacy manifesto invading my nasal passages. The documents it contains corrode things out of things-items more perverse than the baloney out of the sandwich, chomping out the meat upon which our artistic economy sustains itself. A cauterized performance of the direct mail campaign that weighs against our rabidly luxe social field. Corresponding fishing hole gradually dried up. No more nose bleeds. (Trisha Low BOMB 2014-06-01)"

[NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/books/not-nothing-tries-to-capture-the-artist-ray-johnson.html ]

[See also:
http://kaleidoscope-press.com/2014/06/readray-johnsons-bookspublished-by-siglio-press/
http://sigliopress.com/book/not-nothing/
http://sigliopress.com/book/the-paper-snake/ ]
rayjohnson  books  art  glvo  sociability  social  georgevasey  socialcommentary  unfinished  collaboration  audience  audiences  audiencesofone  mailart  process  cv  popart  conceptualart  correspondence 
august 2014 by robertogreco
MoMA | The Unmaker of Objects: Edgardo Antonio Vigo's Marginal Media
"This exhibition celebrates the mail art, visual poetry, performative works, and publications of the Argentine artist Edgardo Antonio Vigo (1928–1997). From his quiet hometown of La Plata, Vigo developed an extensive network of contacts in the Americas and Europe, making the city a hub of the international mail art movement—a loose network of artists who exchanged ideas, art, and poetry through the postal system. From his defiantly local position, Vigo developed an internationalism tempered by a sharp critique of the foreign policy of the United States, from its role in the Vietnam War to its support of authoritarian Latin American governments.

Interested in mass media and alternative channels of communication, Vigo nevertheless maintained an intimate human touch, producing handmade works that he bluntly called cosas, or “things,” to challenge the hierarchies of aesthetic tradition. Consistent with his embrace of mail art, which involves the participation of a recipient, he developed instructions, actions, and visual poems to be carried out or completed by others. He also published magazines that promoted an accessible, democratized art in place of the unique and valuable art object.

Vigo was active during the period when Argentina was ruled by a military junta, which, in 1976, “disappeared” his son Palomo. Vigo and the artist Graciela Gutiérrez Marx together adopted the pseudonym G. E. Marx Vigo and campaigned for Palomo's return; they often stamped the envelopes they sent out through the mail-art network with the English phrase “Set Free Palomo.” Despite government censorship, Vigo's moving letters and graphic works reached artists the world over, testaments to his dedicated ethical commitment."

[See also: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2014/vigo/
edgardoantoniovigo  argentina  art  mailart  laplata  poetry  visualpoetry  objects  massmedia  communication  cosas  accssibility  democracy  democratization 
june 2014 by robertogreco
6, 5: Hills
"The systemic problems – climate change, mass violence, police state, you name ’em – will not be solved from any single angle. One necessary one, I think, is sushi knife cuts across the idea that we are restoring the world. Sometimes, narrowly, this makes some sense: we can say, for example, that there was a past in which there were better women’s health options in Texas than there are today, and use it as an example. But most of the past sucked real bad, or was not a stable object. The good king to whom Robin Hood was loyal was, in the historical record, what we would now call a bad king. And the implication that we can turn the Anthropocene back into the Holocene is simply false, and a dishonest goal; we have to talk about how we’re never going home, but if we work hard we might make a new home that’s better than what we’ve begun to trek into.

A DM conversation with ace reporter Robinson Meyer (gently edited for clarity):

Rob: Have you played 2048, Dan W edition yet?

Me: No.

Rob: It is a hoot.

Rob: http://games.usvsth3m.com/2048/dan-w-edition/

Me: Astonishing.

Me: Died at 2656.

Me: What can we say about the people who think this is fun and clever?

Me: Can we make a more interesting description than “people who have heard of the New Aesthetic”?

Rob: Confusion: Do you think it was not fun and clever, or are you trying to name the very real category?

Me: I think it’s extremely fun and clever.

Me: And I’m trying to get at what this kind of enjoyment is beyond “people out there share my obsessions with certain ‘boring’/‘weird’ things”.

Rob: Haha, okay. Right. Yeah.

Rob: My shorthand is, indeed, usually “weird.” But that in itself is a shorthand for estrangement.

Rob: Estrangeurs.

Me: I sometimes think if it as: bulk people.

Me: People interested in mass transportation, mass communication, massive slabs of data.

Rob: The Blurry Commons.

Rob: (I think it is common-in-bulk—it being not enough to revive the old, say, Judt-esque progressive adoration for trains.)

Rob: The Fans of Connected Signifiers of Disconnection and Vice Versa.

Rob: Shirepunk.

Rob: Domesdayists.

Me: Census-botherers.

Rob: Because it’s partly about working on problems at 45 degree angles to climate.

Rob: Whigpunk.

Rob: But actually this time.

Me: Ack, perfect.

Rob: That’s what it feels like to be thought-led.

It might also be this thing or not. It might be about scale – the feeling of something on the edge between subitizable and not. (It also has the grace of something made by a friend for a friend – which animates some of my favorite light art, even where it lacks other merits.)"
scale  charlieloyd  2014  whigpunk  newaesthetic  climatechange  mailart  tuitui  micronations  robinsonmeyer  wendellberry  systemsthinking  systems  decline  disaster  lauraseay  jasonstearns  gérardprunier  catharinenewbury  davidnewbury  séverineautesserre  africa  genocide  southsudan  sudan  rwanda  centralafricanrepublic  injustice  libertarianism  normanborlaug  anthropocene 
may 2014 by robertogreco
George Maciunas (ed.): Flux Year Box 2 (1965-68) — Monoskop Log
"Flux Year Box 2, a signature Fluxus production, is a boxed anthology of works that was edited and assembled by Fluxus “chairman” George Maciunas beginning in about 1965. Like all Fluxus editions, the contents of each box varies depending on what Maciunas had available at the time.

“With this project, the assembled works nestle inside a partitioned wooden box designed by Maciunas and printed with a matrix of mismatched fonts on its hinged cover. In his request for ideas, Maciunas indicates the edition will be “limited to book events only, i.e. events that are enacted by the reader automatically as he inspects the book or box.” Scores for performances requiring additional props or instruments—for example, Albert M. Fine’s Fluxus Piece for G.M.—do not factor among this criteria. Rather, immediate sensation and contained experience are accentuated. A sort of tool kit or supply chest, Flux Year Box 2 contains materials for actions, such as corresponding using Ben Vautier’s The Postman’s Choice postcard, medicating oneself with capsules from Shigeko Kubota’s Flux Medicine, or burning down all libraries and museums using Ben Vautier’s Total Art Match-Box. In addition, during this period Maciunas produced film programs called Fluxfilms, and incorporated this audiovisual dimension into Flux Year Box 2, including numerous short loops and a hand-crank viewer with which to watch them.”"
fluxus  flux  georgemaciunas  art  objects  mailart  events  situationist  1965  1968  benvautier  shigekokubota  fluxfilms 
january 2014 by robertogreco

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