In 1988, New York–based collagist Robert Warner began a correspondence with the enigmatic artist Ray Johnson. Until Johnson’s death in 1995, Ray and Bob continued their exchange, mostly by mail and telephone, and only occasionally in person. Over the course of their relationship Warner received hundred of pieces of mail art from Johnson, ranging from collages to a hand-delivered piece of driftwood. At one of their rare in-person meetings, Johnson gave Warner thirteen cardboard boxes tied with twine, labeled “Bob Box 1,” “Bob Box 2,” and so on.
Tables of Content displays all thirteen boxes and their contents. Warner has selected and arranged the letters, drawings, photocopies, and found objects like t-shirts, tennis balls, and random beach trash—the material of Johnson’s art—on an assembly of thirteen tables and surrounding gallery walls. Johnson annotated many of these things with personal codes, puns, and dark, irreverent jokes. Johnson’s work—collages, correspondence art, and performance events—remains mysterious and a bit hard to pin down. But his influences are obvious and surface repeatedly, among them Andy Warhol, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Elvis Presley. His collage approach was diaristic, a stream-of-consciousness flow through the matter and memory of everyday life, shifting from one topic to another, across all variety of things. Johnson once remarked, “My work is like driving a car. I’m always shifting gears.” Tables of Content will particularly resonate with Berkeley audiences who viewed the recent exhibition Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage.