Ray Johnson (1927–95) was a seminal Pop artist, a proto-conceptualist and a pioneer of mail art.
Always one to throw sand in the gears of art-world institutions, he tended to circulate his work either in truly alternative spaces (like sticking up out of the uneven floorboards of a warehouse downtown) or through the US Postal Service. Throughout his life, Johnson sent collages, drawings and less easily categorized forms of printed matter to friends, colleagues and strangers. Already in 1965, Grace Glueck described Johnson as “New York’s most famous unknown artist.”
Though his work resists efforts to pin it down, Johnson can be said to have found a particularly useful medium in collage. Collage allowed Johnson to reflect—but also to participate in—the modern collision of visual and verbal information that only became more frenzied as the 20th century wore on.
This volume collects 42 collages made by Johnson between 1966 and 1994, most never exhibited or published before, with a new essay by writer Brad Gooch, who first came into contact with Johnson when he began receiving unsolicited mail art shortly before the artist’s death. The collection of works in this volume shows the artist at his most expansive, combining art history with celebrity, word with image and the personal with the universal.