home - about - contents - news archive - superstars - interviews - articles - soup can - films - art - timeline - abstract expressionism - sources - citations

February 2009
(to January 2009)

Ray Johnson at Raven Row: 28 February - May 10, 2009

Ray Johnson c. 1968
(Photo: William S. Wilson)

"Ray Johnson. Please Add to and Return" will be the inaugural exhibition of the new non-profit art space, Raven Row, located at 56 Artillery Lane, London.

More than 200 works by Johnson will be on exhibit at Raven Row - the largest exhibition of his work that has ever taken place in Europe. A description of the exhibition, along with a fascinating sample of Johnson's work ("Ray Johnson's HIstory of Video Art") which includes references to Jonas Mekas and video artists/filmmakers such as Nam June Paik and Stan Vanderbeek, can be found here.

Untitled (May Wilson), 1965
Ink and collage elements on paper
(Collection William S. Wilson)

Ray Johnson's work and life are well-known amongst Warhol aficionados. Some of his works contain references to Warhol or his superstars - such as Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Andrea Feldman. In the work illustrated above, for instance, Johnson references both Warhol's S & H Green Stamps and the neo-Dada artist May Wilson. It was under May Wilson's bed that Valerie Solanas stored the gun she used to shoot Andy Warhol in 1968.

It is possible that some of Ray Johnson's work is hiding away in one of Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, currently being catalogued by a team of researchers at The Warhol museum in Pittsburgh. Warhol refers to the items in an entry in his diaries on May 22, 1984. Warhol comments "I opened up one of the boxes in the back that's being moved and it had 16mm rolls of film and letters from Ray Johnson the artist and I think my bloodstained clothes from when I was shot."

Although Johnson is primarily known as a founder of "mail art," he also participated in many of the performance events of the early sixties, including a "Happening" at Diane di Prima's New York Poets Theatre in March 1962; participating in the "Billy Linich Show" (aka Billy Name) at the Yam Festival in May 1963; performing in a dance piece at James Waring's Pocket Follies in June 1963; and dancing with Fluxus artist Al Hansen (father to Bibbe Hansen) in a Susan Kaufman dance piece at the Judson Dance Theatre in July/August 1963.

Johnson was actually a year older than Warhol - born October 16, 1927. He attended Black Mountain College from 1945 - 1948. His teachers included Josef Albers and (in 1945) Robert Motherwell. At Black Mountain he met and befriended John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Richard Lippold. He moved to New York after leaving Black Mountain, working part-time at the Orientalia Bookstore. By 1953 his focus changed from painting to collage or, as he preferred to call them, his "moticos" which often included popular imagery - Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean - considerably earlier than Warhol. Johnson went Pop when Warhol was still doing commercial illustration. His Oedipus (Elvis #1) (exhibited at the "Pop Art Portraits" exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in late 2007/2008) pre-dated Warhol's Elvis. More recently Johnson's work could be seen in the group show "Looking at Music" last month at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

By the late 1950s Johnson was doing "mail art" - encouraging the recipients of his work, sent through the post to "Please add to" the work "and return" it to him or send it to a completely different person. In 1962 he founded the "New York Correspondance School" movement, intentionally misspelling "correspondence" as "correspondance." (A list of Johnson's mail art correspondances with the art group, General Idea, now held by the National Gallery of Canada, can be found here.)

Billy Name, the person responsible for the silver look of Warhol's 60s Factory and the only person to have actually lived there, had this to say about Ray Johnson during an Artists Talk on Art panel discussion in 2004:

Billy Name:

"... walking down the street with Ray Johnson... it becomes alive. The fire hydrants are artistically, aesthetically alive all of a sudden and part of your world and engaging with you... and all of a sudden you see the world as this wonderful, delightful, joyful, playful place and it doesn't stop. It's not like it's something you get when you're with Ray and then you go away and say 'gee I oughta see Ray again and get that feeling.' He was such a master that he incorporated your mind into his collage so that you became part of this joyful world that he lived... I have mixed feelings about his final act, the death scene... and I can only accept it as part of one of his art pieces because there's no way this guy could have been emotionally driven or socially driven to do away with himself..."

The "death scene" that Billy referred to was Johnson's suicide in 1995 when he jumped into Sag Harbor and never reappeared.

John Suiter (Independent on Sunday, June 4, 2000):

"At 4pm on the day of his suicide, Johnson arrived in Orient [Long Island] and called his old friend Bill Wilson. 'Tell Toby this is a mail event,' he said to Wilson. 'Toby' is Toby Spiselman ... Spiselman was for years the 'acting secretary' of the Correspondence School. Johnson himself had spoken to Toby the night before, and although he did not mention suicide, she sensed that 'something was wrong.' Mostly, Ray had been intent on conveying his deep feeling for her in what he apparently knew were his parting words. 'Toby,' he had told her as he hung up, 'remember you are loved.' Wilson, too, had the feeling on the phone that he might be talking to his friend for the last time. 'This was not a sudden eruption of melancholy,' said Wilson shortly after Johnson's suicide. 'Ray planned this carefully as a rational adult.' Wilson is convinced that 'from at least a year before the act. . . Ray Johnson intended to die on a Friday the 13th in his 67th year.'"

Bill Wilson's home movie of Ray Johnson can be found on You Tube at: here.

Details of the exhibition at Raven Row can be found on the gallery's website here.

Guardian article on opening of Raven Row here.

"The NY Correspondance School" by William S. Wilson can be found here.

Joe Dallesandro receives a Teddy at the Berlinale

Warhol star Joe Dallesandro received a special Teddy award at the Berlin International Film Festival (the Berlinale) on Friday, February 13th. A new documentary on Joe, titled Little Joe, directed by Nicole Haeusser, is also being shown at the festival. On Thursday February 12th, Dallesandro attended a press conference at the festival in which he talked about his Warhol days. Photos from the press conference can be found here.

After finishing his last films for Paul Morrissey - Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood for Draculabook - Joe starred in quite a few European films including Je t'aime moi non plus with Jane Birkin (directed by Serge Gainsbourg), Jacques Rivette's Merry Go Round and Catherine Breillat's Tapage nocturne. (Breillat's film is also being shown at the festival.) After returning to the U.S., Dallesandro landed roles in Steven Soderbergh's The Limey and Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club in addition to being featured in Calvin Klein advertisements with super-model Kate Moss. Last year Joe appeared in Michael Frost's short film, Three Stories About Evil, which also featured Mink Stole in the cast.

Jonas Mekas' Film-makers' Cooperative to be evicted

Jonas Mekas (speaking at the Whitney Museum):

"I dedicate this retrospective to all the filmmakers, to all the artists in all the arts, who do in the first place what they do because they believe in it, because they have to do it no matter who says what, who likes it or dislikes it, as it has to be done."

The New York Times has reported that "...the Film-Makers’ Cooperative received an eviction notice that would force it out of its office and archive in a building in TriBeCa, space that is controlled by the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center...P.S. 1 intends to give up the 8,200 square feet on the 13th floor at 108 Leonard Street and turn it over to Alanna Heiss, who founded P.S. 1 in 1971... Ms. Heiss, in turn, wants to use the location as a base for her latest project, an Internet radio station called Art International Radio."

The founder of the Film-Makers' Cooperative, Jonas Mekas (who also founded Film Culture magazine and wrote a regular column for the Village Voice on underground film in the 1960s), played a key role in the American cultural revolution of the 1960s - promoting and distributing the work of experimental filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren and Andy Warhol. Mekas, a Lithuanian refugee who arrived in New York in 1949 via the displaced persons camps of World War II, almost single handedly brought the underground over ground. Most of Warhol's early films were first shown at one of Mekas' Cinematheques. Today, the Film-maker's Coop has thousands of 16mm films by artists/filmmakers such as Carolee Schneeman, Tony Conrad, Hollis Frampton, Jennifer Reeves, Jack Smith, Ken Jacobs, Peggy Ahwesh, Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Marie Menken, Shirley Clarke, Martha Colburn, Leslie Thornton and of course Mekas' own films.

The intention to replace real art (film) with radio programs about art seems bizarre, to say the least. Art oriented magazines and television stations are having enough trouble surviving. Is there an actual demand for an internet radio station devoted to the arts? Before anyone decides to evict anyone, they should have a look at the site statistics for Art International Radio. P.S 1's web-based arts radio program, WPS1, was initially launched in 2004 with Heiss at the helm and Bloomberg L.P. giving the station a three-year grant of just under $1 million. (PH) When was the last time you accessed it? Is Art International Radio being funded with private or public money?

You can show your support for Mekas and the Co-op by sending emails protesting their eviction to Kate D. Levin, the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for New York; to MoMA who have been affiliated with P.S. 1 since 2000; and to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg who is an Ex-Officio board member of P.S. 1. The email address for P.S. 1 is mail@ps1.org (send to the attention of Peter Norton, Chairman of the Board). Kate D. Levin and Mayor Bloomberg can be sent an email via the form on the New York City government's website here. If you are a sponsor of P.S. 1 you can send your protest to development@ps1.org. Honorary board members of P.S. 1 include Agnes B and Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The New York Public Library, the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Fine Arts Library at Harvard have all issued statements supporting the Film-maker's Co-op, according to the New York Times article which can be found at: here.

John Giorno in Paris

The John Giorno (Sleep) exhibition, "Life is a Killer," at the Galerie Almine Rech in Paris continues until February 25, 2009. Details and slideshow on the gallery's website here.

John Giorno:

"I was there with Andy Warhol in 1962–63, with Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper [Johns]... each of them were lovers of mine at one point during the ’60s... In 1962, all those abstract painters hated Andy Warhol. Phil Pearlstein tried to champion him, but they all hated him because he was just a fag and he did that 'appalling' art."

John Cale has a secret (So does Karl Schenzer)

Click here

Footage of John Cale from a 1963 episode of the American television show I've Got a Secret has materialized on You Tube. In the footage, Cale is accompanied by an actor from The Living Theatre's production of The Brig, Karl Schenzer, who claims to be the only person to have sat through the entire performance of the John Cage production of Erik Satie's Vexations at the Pocket Theater in 1963. Cale was one of the pianists who performed the work during the concert. (The Pocket Theater was also used by James Waring (Haircut No. 1) during March - April, 1964 for a series of seven Monday night programs of "Events and Entertainments" featuring Judson Dance Theater performers (JD194) - for more information on Waring type his name in the search box at the top of this page.)

According to the writer, George Plimpton, Andy Warhol told him that he (Warhol) had also sat through the whole concert of Vexations. In 2007 the Tate Modern in London claimed, in their blurb for their own production of Vexations, that "Warhol was inspired to complete the film [Sleep] with a new repetitive editing structure after attending the writer and composer John Cage’s (1912–92) historic 1963 performance at the Pocket Theatre in New York of the French composer Erik Satie’s (1866–1925) epic repetitive work for piano, Vexations, 1893." (See here.) However, doubts exist over whether Warhol did actually attend the production. John Cage did not recall his presence at the concert - see Notes on John Cage, Erik Satie's Vexations and Andy Warhol's Sleep.

Both Karl Schenzer and John Cale were also friends of the American artist, Ray Johnson. During a concert at the Mean Fiddler in London in 2007, Cale performed a new song "Hey Ray" in which he made reference to Johnson. (See here.) An exhibition of Johnson's work is due to take place at Raven Row in London from February 28 to May 10, 2009 - see below.

Andy Warhol/Barnett Newman exhibition opens in September 2009

An exhibition featuring the work of Andy Warhol along with the Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman and image-text artist Christopher Wool is to open at the Graz Kunsthaus in September 2009 and will run until January 10, 2010. A selection of Warhol's films will be screened in conjunction with the exhibition.

Details here.

Selected Barnett Newman Links from Abstract Expressionism:

Birth of Barnett Newman | Art Students League and City College | What about Isolationist Art? | Barnett Newman on Pearl Harbor and Myths | Barnett Newman vs. The New York Times | Barnett Newman vs. the Metropolitan Museum of Art | Barnett Newman on Cezanne: The Problem of Subject Matter | The Plasmic Image | A Problem for Critics | Gea, The Slaying of Osiris and The Song of Orpheus | Barnett Newman organizes Indians | The Ideographic Picture | Zips: Onement 1 | The Subjects of the Artist | First Solo Exhibition | Barnett Newman vs. The Museum of Modern Art | The Irascibles | Barnett Newman vs. Betty Parsons | 15 Americans: Mark Rothko vs. Barnett Newman | Barnett Newman vs. Mark Rothko | Barnett Newman vs. Reinhardt | New American Painting | American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists | Broken Obelisk | Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley | Barnett Newman dies

Bibbe Hansen in Second Life drama

Warhol star Bibbe Hansen is currently working on a new film, VolaVola/FlyMe, directed by Italian Berardo Carboni. Two projects will be produced from a single screenplay - one in Rome and one on virtual world site, Second Life. Bibbe will act and animate her avatar herself.

Details here.

to January 2009

home - about - contents - news archive - superstars - interviews - articles - soup can - films - art - timeline - abstract expressionism - sources - citations