Almost twenty years after his death, Ray Johnson continues to be revealed as one of the most consequential figures in American contemporary art. As the progenitor of correspondence art and an influential pioneer of pop art and conceptual art, Johnson’s curiosity resulted in an immense body of work that spans collage, correspondence, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, and book arts. For better or worse, he embodied that over-glorified and under-recognized role of “the artist’s artist.” Johnson’s dynamic life-art unfolded within a nexus of artists and media that read as a who’s who and what’s what of American art from the 1950s through 1970s, and yet he systematically refused or flouted all opportunities to popularize his work through mainstream art commerce.
Untitled, ca. 1980