"Art in America" magazine features important article on mail art (Sept. 29, 2020)

Thanks to IUOMA member Carmela Rizzuto (California, USA) for sharing this initially on the IUOMA platform.

"Art in America" just published an article about the origins of mail art, Ray Johnson & Yoko Ono & John Held Jr., French exhibitions, USA postal system etc. 

Should be of some interest to mail artists. 


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Comment by Ilya Semenenko-Basin on October 4, 2020 at 8:05pm

Dear friends, thank you for sharing your views. I liked De Villo Sloan's phrase very much: "There are competing schools of thought. It becomes very academic after a point and also - I think - staking a claim of ownership".

For this reason, I try to see the development of a fact, a phenomenon, behind the disputes about the term.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on October 2, 2020 at 4:19pm

Yes, [sic] is a very handy editorial symbol indicating that a misspelling or other textual peculiarity was made by the author and not the editor.

I never used [sic] until I was in grad school and part of a project editing and transcribing the journals of. the USA artist Charles Burchfield. I should have learned the symbol earlier but being on that project brought me up to speed fast and CB left many peculiarities in his hand-written journals.

"Correspondance" is a perfect example of Ray Johnson's Joycean wordplay. This playfulness has found it's way into the network. The exchange of art & language is a kind of dance, as I understand it.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on October 2, 2020 at 5:43am

You are correct, Bradford, to the best of my knowledge. I usually use the normal spelling because inevitably someone will write "correspondance" is a typo. Best to write "correspondance [sic]" but how many people know that notation?

Anyway, thanks. No fake news in mail art!

I think all our ducks are in a row. (Invocation of Richard Canard not intentional - but I wonder if he was in the 1970 Whitney show? It's possible.)

Comment by Bradford on October 2, 2020 at 5:09am

I always thought it was "The New York Correspondance School".

Comment by De Villo Sloan on October 1, 2020 at 2:20am

Pardon me. Correction: The New York Correspondence School exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NY took place in 1 9 7 0. 

The French show was a year later in 1971.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on October 1, 2020 at 1:52am

Hi Illya, thank you.

I make no claim to have a knowledge of mail art at the level of John Held, Richard Canard, Mark Bloch or Ruud Janssen. So I hope others can help answer the question.

Yes, that article contends the term "mail art" first appeared in a French publication circa 1971. I found the material about mail art in France very interesting.

The New York Correspondence School exhibit (1971) held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City is widely considered a very important event in mail art history. The author says the term "mail art" was not used in the show. (I think Ray Johnson considered the Whitney show the end of mail art?)

Mail art was defined and theorized by a French graduate student at that time. Again, this is very interesting. I wonder what others think?

I know seeking the origins of cultural terms can be treacherous. Recently the visual poetry community has had raging debates about who coined the term "asemic" and what it means!

Writers still argue today over who first coined the term postmodern (post-modern). There are competing schools of thought. It becomes very academic after a point and also - I think - staking a claim of ownership. But we critics must define our terms.

My first response is that someone must have used the term "mail art" prior to 1971. Surely Ray Johnson did? But the writer seems to be searching for the first use of the term "mail art" in a PRINT publication. Thus these searches always grow more complex.

I do like the article. I hope this helps, Illya. If English were not my born tongue, this would be a challenge probably beyond me. I admire you very much, my friend.

Comment by Ilya Semenenko-Basin on September 30, 2020 at 10:05pm

Very interesting article, thank you for it! So, for the first time the term MAIL ART was used by a French art critic?



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