Ray Johnson (1927-1995) is one of the great underground figures of American art. A key player behind the scenes as Pop and Conceptual Art were emerging, Johnson was both a precursor and fly-in-the-ointment as those two categories of activity developed, and he went on in the 1960s to establish and continually interrogate playful, at times devious methods for assembling and reworking his art, and eventually for its dissemination. Fundamentally a collage artist, channeling influences from Dada and Surrealism, Johnson pieced together a singular universe built of tactile fragments, often culled from earlier work, sometimes only culminating after decades in process. The other fundamental contribution Johnson made was the use of the postal service as a means of artistic invention. He founded the New York Correspondence School and the monumental body of mail-art that he made was the central organizing principle of the recent exhibition Ray Johnson c/o at the Art Institute of Chicago (2021-22).
Ray Johnson, Gypsy Rose Lee 1914 - 1970, 1971, mixed media collage on cardboard panel, 34 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches
Photo: Robert Chase Heishman