Ray Johnson: The New York Correspondance School

Exhibition Dates: October 8 - December 19, 1999

Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

University of British Columbia

Vancouver, Canada

The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia is proud to present an exhibition of Ray Johnson's collage and mail art.

Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was an important American collage and correspondence artist whose innovative artistic practice has persistently failed to garner the attention of the mainstream art press. His work merits considerable thought because it brings to light, through a vast array of visual and textual reference, an insightful account of the struggles gripping international art production as it attempted to deal with the crisis of modernist painting in the decades following World War II. Johnson was based in New York during the 1950s and 60s and his contribution to the art of that era (as well as his lack of renown) has to be understood in relation to his innovative technical method. He was the seminal figure in the practice of 'mail art' and it is through his dedicated engagement with the processes of distribution and circulation that he created an intellectual and artistic geography where practitioners could imagine and enact the wide-ranging possibilities of an artistic practice which stood playfully and strategically apart from the problematic of modernist painting. Inspired by Johnson's mail art communications, Canadian artists including Anna Banana, General Idea, Eric Metcalfe, Michael Morris, Vincent Trasov and Peter Schuyff could overstep the constraints of their geographic and cultural isolation and configure their own practice within the embattled terrain of the North American art world. The emergence of the Canadian avant-garde during the 1960's was shaped, in a critical and unmistakable way, by the universe which Johnson's mail art created.

The exhibition was initiated by Scott Watson, Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov and is curated by Michael Morris and Sharla Sava. In addition to this web-site, a catalogue which includes an exhibition check list, critical essays and a chronology will accompany the exhibition.

This web-site is an ongoing process intended to introduce viewer to the significant themes which will appear in the upcoming exhibition. It is organized in four parts which will appear during the next four months: Nothing (July), Blood (August), Collage (September), Death (October).