Ray Johnson Exhibition Catalog with William S. Wilson Essay from Alicia Starr (Iowa City, Iowa, USA)

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February 28, 2015 - Alicia Starr is exceptionally kind, generous and thoughtful. She sent me a copy of the Challenging Rectangles catalog that was available at a very popular Ray Johnson exhibit in New York City last year. I know some IUOMA members attended in addition to Alicia. This beautiful catalog, with an essay by William S. Wilson, was apparently issued several years before the recent exhibition that garnered so much praise and generated so much excitement. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the show, which makes Alicia Starr’s gesture all the more touching. (I do not know much about the details of the show that generated the buzz. Maybe someone could report.) You should be able to click and enlarge the scans.

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Given copyright concerns, I will provide excerpts and not re-publish the entire catalog.

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William S. Wilson was close friends with Ray Johnson. He is one of the leading Johnson experts and scholars today. Last year, he was active in the network, sending mail to many artists. I was thrilled he included me, and I blogged the missive at the IUOMA. (I discovered after the fact our mystery artist was William S. Wilson; that was confirmed 100%.):


As you might expect, the Wilson essay is FAB. Here is a small excerpt:

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You can read the complete essay here:


The catalog includes images of some great art by Ray Johnson:

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Note the reference to the legendary Blue Eyes Club, second only to the Spam Radio Club. The various fan clubs you see in the network today are mostly derived from the clubs Ray Johnson started.

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Many thanks Alicia Starr!

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Comment by Ray Johnson Estate on March 16, 2015 at 6:17pm

I'm sorry, I had to delete my earlier comment because it contained my email address and I started to receive spam mail.

I am re-posting without the address:

I just wanted to point out that this catalogue accompanied an exhibition at Richard L. Feigen & Co. in 2008. The recent exhibition, also at Feigen, was called "Ray Johnson's Art World" and you can find more information about it here: http://www.rayjohnsonestate.com/exhibitions/past/ray-johnsonand39s-...
It had its own catalogue, which you can read about here:http://www.rayjohnsonestate.com/publication/ray-johnsonand39s-art-w...
I'm glad you like the work and the catalogue.
Diana Bowers, Ray Johnson Estate Archivist

Comment by De Villo Sloan on March 2, 2015 at 10:25pm

Thank you for the clarification and welcome.

It is a wonderful catalogue but I did notice it was issued earlier than the exhibition.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on March 1, 2015 at 12:54pm

(I think Maciunas issued an official edict that Fluxus folk should/could participate in m-a. There was an official endorsement on some level. He was obsessed in trying to dismantle the art world/art market and m-a offered one possibility for an alternative, egalitarian, participatory culture that bypassed institutions. I am sure that was the impetus.)

Comment by De Villo Sloan on March 1, 2015 at 12:49pm

Yes, Fluxus is one "official" movement (you find it in art history books) that is connected to mail-art, and Fluxus continues in the m-a network now. Of course, this has created huge problems for the historians, critics and collectors who claim Fluxus ended in 1978. Ray Johnson, in hindsight, sure seems Fluxus but I don't think ever declared himself as such. You had the issue where George Maciunas pronounced what and wasn't Fluxus when he was alive, expelled people and a lot of people left because it was too problematic.

What amazes me is that the mail artists working in Fluxus today are often so faithful to the spirit with Flux kits, event scores, found material, concrete/visual poetry, etc. Of course, you have people making Fluxus stamps and using them without having any idea what it means, but stuff like that has always gone on. But looking into it can be very interesting.

Comment by on March 1, 2015 at 3:04am

They were some prolific years it would seem, oddly enough I've been reading about Fluxus items and such tonight.

Please, please post your pics in Viz's studio group, I'm sure I'm not alone in being interested in your space.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on March 1, 2015 at 1:53am

Gina, I think I should post pics in Vizma's show us your studio group, but I think it might scare people.

In terms of mail-art archives, I notice in the timeline section of Ray Johnson's life that he declared the NY Correspondance School defunct in 1973. That's before many of our most senior members ever got started in mail-art. My memory goes back as far as the 80s - which is pretty far back - and the amount of work produced during that decade alone is staggering and only partially available. Important and huge amounts of work were produced in the 60s and 70s. Most of us only have a slim handle on it and few realize just how vast the production was. There seems to be a great deal of interest in a lot of places in sifting through this stuff and making sense of it. It crosses over into Fluxus and avant literature. It is a gigantic undertaking.

Comment by on February 28, 2015 at 8:09pm

I have this vision of you living in an archive!

Comment by De Villo Sloan on February 28, 2015 at 7:46pm

(Accidentally deleted a long comment.)

Thank you, Mim. Someone else who attended the show offered to give me one of their only catalogs too. People rightfully assume that when they entrust me with these treasures I will blog them and they will be shared with a larger audience. Mail-artists are very thoughtful that way.

I do think the work in this catalog is excellent. The William S. Wilson essay is excellent as well, IMHO. There is an added bonus because last year William S. sent m-a to a number of IUOMA members, making him an active networker. But who is fully aware of his accomplishments or who he is? What is a greater honor for a mail-artist than to receive and even trade art with someone who once mashed potatoes w/Ray, as Rain Rein might have said on these very pages?

I only wish someone who attended the show or knows about it could fill in more details. There was a buzz about it on FB near the end of last year, but I couldn't find a whole lot and, alas, did not brave The City myself. I think Alicia went there from Iowa.

So many thanks again to Alicia Starr.

Comment by Mim Golub Scalin on February 28, 2015 at 6:14pm

How totally wonderful that you were sent this terrific publication.



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