Rare Work Of Seminal “Mail Artist” Ray Johnson Explored In New Book

August 13, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

“Not Nothing,” a new book on artist Ray Johnson — friend to Andy Warhol, John Cage and others — expands the context for his under-appreciated work. Johnson was a man of many mediums — collage, performance art and “mail art.”

122-Not_Nothing_Ray_Johnson-8(Image Courtesy Siglio Press)

Johnson had started the New York Correspondance School and held meetings for fellow mail artists, whose interactive artworks were sent through the post. He was also a writer, and many of his works consisted of a mixture of visual and written components. The New York Times describes Johnson’s unique sensibility:

Like Warhol, Johnson had an appetite for glamour and the politics of who-knows-who. But he was impatient with hierarchy. Warhol was a worshiper, Johnson a collector, a cataloger. In his work the same plane of importance is occupied by Marcel Duchamp, Anita O’Day and Toby Spiselman, a Long Island friend. It’s hard to imagine Warhol heading up an Anna May Wong fan club, but Johnson did. There’s a sense that for him all names are equivalent in value, are all collage elements, all “nothings,” or rather somethings, equally useful and even soothing in their sameness.

122-Not_Nothing_Ray_Johnson-14(Image Courtesy Siglio Press)

The soon to be released book Not Nothing edited by Elizabeth Zuba traces much of Johnson’s career. He died by suicide in 1995, leaving much to be discovered about his life and art.

122-Not_Nothing_Ray_Johnson-7(Image Courtesy Siglio Press)