Ray Johnson, "Untitled (Golf Balls with Brick Snake)", 6.16.86, 6.28.86, 6.12.86, circa 1970-1980, collage on masonite, 16 by 16 inches
Ray Johnson (1927 – 1995) was an early proponent of pop, conceptual, performance, and mail art. By the mid-1950s, Johnson was making small collages on which he pasted images from popular culture, including stars like Elvis and Shirley Temple. He also incorporated letters, fragments of words, and text into his collages like the cubist artists in the early 20th century. Yet, by 1958, he parodied the New York School artists with the formation of his New York Correspondence School. He began to mail his collages with the instructions “Please send to …” creating a vast network of correspondence.
Johnson also contradicted the Abstract Expressionists, the dominant group of the 1950s, by making small-scale work with impersonal materials like newspaper clippings and magazine pictures, rejecting their heroic scale and personal brush strokes. The individualism of the Abstract Expressionists was challenged by Johnson’s collaborative method that often required a response from those who received his collages.
This exhibition, curated by Sandra Kraskin, focuses on Johnson’s collages with references to art, poetry, music, and film. Born in Detroit, he attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He studied with Josef Albers and Ilya Bolotowsky, and he met numerous visiting artists including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, Richard Lippold, and Buckminster Fuller.
In 1965, the art critic Grace Glueck called Ray Johnson “New York’s most famous unknown artist.” Even now he is well-known only among a select group of artists, dealers and critics. After his death in 1995, the Richard L. Feigen & Company gallery presented a large memorial exhibition which was reviewed by Roberta Smith in the New York Times. She called the exhibition “stunning” and noted that Ray Johnson’s early collages “presaged Pop Art.” In 1999, four years after his death, Donna De Salvo organized an exhibition of Ray Johnson’s work for the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University.
For more information about the Ray Johnson Estate, including our current and future exhibitions, visit:
Per Ray Johnson" - Giovanni Bonanno 2014