Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Ray Johnson Mail Art ( Part 2)

Ray Johnson wasn’t a person who created art, he seemed to make his very existence an art project. He didn’t make art – he was art.

Mail Art was a good example of how he blurred the lines using utilitarian systems for artistic expression. What better example of a public utility than the mail system? Ray conceived the idea of sending small art pieces (usually on postcards), to random people. He wanted to confront people directly with his art. These pieces would usually have some simple instructions for the receiver to do – say, fill in a box here or draw a line there.

He felt that by doing this he was creating a direct connection between the artist and the one receiving the piece in the mail. He was confronting people in their homes with his art. This wasn’t something he dreamed up and did for a period of time – this went on his entire adult life. God knows how many thousands of pieces of art he mailed out. I seem to remember from the documentary that part of the larger scope of the project was to eventually mail a piece of art from every mailbox in NYC. This required detailed notes and records, which of course also became part of the piece. Which was really his entire existence.

As if there was no distinction between “ordinary life” and the creation of “art.”

It was all art.

He even seemed to conceive his death from an apparent suicide an art piece.

A few days after he died, a post card addressed to Mr. Johnson arrived in Locust Valley ( Ray’s Long Island home). On the card, which bore a Los Angeles postmark, someone had written the date “1-13-95” (the date of his death). It was decorated with a bunny head with Mr. Johnson’s likeness, and it was signed “Ray Johnson.”

“If you are reading this, I must be dead,” it said.

Whether it is genuine, no one seems to know.

– New York Times, “Friends of an Enigmatic Artist See a Riddle in His Death,” by Peter Marks, February 12, 1995