Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner and the New York Correspondence School

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Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner, and the New York Correspondence School, installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2013.
Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner, and the New York Correspondence School, installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2013.

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Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner, and the New York Correspondence School, installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2013.
Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner, and the New York Correspondence School, installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2013.

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Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner, and the New York Correspondence School, installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2013.
Return to Sender: Ray Johnson, Robert Warner, and the New York Correspondence School, installation view at Krannert Art Museum, 2013.

Exhibition

On view
Aug 30, 2013 to Jan 5, 2014
Main Level, Gelvin Noel Gallery, Gelvin Noel Annex, and Light Court

In addition to these more ephemeral gestures, the exhibition included 25 collages that Johnson made for gallery exhibitions. While Johnson is best known for his freewheeling mail art, he also produced exquisitely constructed collages that were built out of dense layers of NYCS ephemera and made to portray prominent artists, curators, and critics of the New York art world. Similar to the mail art, however, these portraits are collective—never simply of one person but of many. 

In the mid-1950s, the New York-based artist Ray Johnson (1927–95) initiated a new form of artistic practice called “mail art,” in which participants received a letter or object in the post, added to or subtracted from that item, and then mailed it onward to another participant or returned it to Johnson. Through this process Johnson established a network of artists called the New York Correspondence School (NYCS), many of who still send and receive mail art today.

Robert Warner, one of the participants in this network, engages the legacy of this school both by sending mail art and creating art installations out of 13 boxes of NYCS ephemera that Johnson gave him in 1988. These boxes—which contain objects that speak to Johnson’s signature iconography (e.g. bunnies, cupids, snakes, postage stamps, etc.) as well as mail art works by the various members of the NYCS—constitute a veritable cabinet of curiosities, particularly when unpacked by Warner. For this exhibition, Warner will reinstall the boxes, this time emphasizing Box 13 which contains ephemera from a mail art event that Johnson organized in Illinois in 1974 through an Illinois Arts Council grant. 

Select programming for this exhibition:

October 10 
5:30 pm: Film Screening
Ray Johnson Correspondence School (1974) and How to Draw a Bunny (2002)
Ray Johnson Correspondence School is a rare unreleased short film by John Orlandello. This campy short documents a performance and exhibition that Johnson made as an artist-in-residence at Western Illinois University in the early 1970s. (5 min)
Courtesy WIU Archives and Special Collections
How to Draw a Bunny is a documentary by John Walter and Andrew Moore that explores the fascinating life and mysterious death of the artist and underground icon, Ray Johnson. (90 min) 

November 14
5:30 pm: Gallery Conversation
With Miriam Kienle, guest curator and doctoral candidate in Art History

 

Guest Curator: Miriam Kienle, doctoral candidate in Art History

Sponsored in part by Fox Development Corporation; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; and Krannert Art Museum

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