Ray Johnson

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Untitled (David Bourdon Profile with Clock and Moticos Tesserae), Feb. 10, 1979, Feb. 11, 1979 Collage On Cardboard Panel 29,8 X 26 Cm / 11 ¾ X 10 ½ In © Courtesy of the artist & Aurel Scheibler / ScheiblerMitte
Ray Johnson

Schöneberger Ufer 71
10785 Berlin
November 12th, 2011 - March 31st, 2012

+49 (0)30 25 93 86 07
Tuesday-Saturday 11-6 / Dienstag-Samstag 11-18 Uhr


Ray Johnson (1927–1995) needed but a few simple forms to create his icons - the bunny
heads, snakes and stylized skulls that are among the characters peopling his collages. They
represent him but also at times people, objects and themes that interested him and
functioned in his work as a kind of label. Dubbed the “most famous unknown artist in New
York” by The New York Times, Johnson is considered the founder of Mail Art and the initiator
of the New York Correspondance [sic] School. His collages, which he began distributing
worldwide in the 1950s, were seminal for Pop Art. His performances have been referred to
as the first informal happenings; he called him “nothings”. He staged his suicide on a Friday
the 13th in January 1995, which resulted in numerous speculations and a downright Johnson
Aurel Scheibler, in cooperation with the Ray Johnson Estate in New York, is proud to host
Johnson’s first gallery show in Germany. The exhibition will be comprised of collaged
silhouette portraits from the 70s, 80s and 90s from the estate as well as Mail Art and graphic
works of the 60s from a private collection.
Ray Johnson studied at Black Mountain College with, among others, Josef Albers, Lyonel
Feininger and the graphic designer Paul Rand. It was here that he began his friendships with
John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller and Willem and Elaine de Kooning. In
1948 Johnson went to New York, where he began an abstract body of work and exhibited
with other members of the American Abstract Artists (AAA). In the late 50s he became a
master of collage. Photographs and snippets from illustrated magazines and newspapers
served as material that he confronted with his own drawings, figures and poetic texts. He
added directions for use and commentary, addressed them to friends and strangers and,
according to William Wilson, played the U.S. mail like a harp. The recipients of his works
included artists such as Andy Warhol, musicians, literary figures and art critics, who became
participants in his close-knit network of interactive communication.
These collages were received not only in the mail. Johnson arranged his “moticos” – an
anagram of the word osmotic he used to describe his works – in installations that
occasionally took place on the street, in Grand Central Station or in dilapidated New York
cellars and count among the first informal happenings. In one of his most famous works from
the mid-50s, at the height of Abstract Expressionism, Johnson painted the eyes of an Elvis
Presley photograph, called it “Oedipus” and, in reference to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings,
claimed that he was “the only painter in New York whose drips mean anything."
Johnson did not see art as an act of production but rather as a form of communication and
in this, thereby anticipating the concept of social networks long before the invention of the
Internet. At times curiously backwards but always rich in context, his imagery revitalized the
medium of collage. These works highlight the art scene up until the present-day and remain
as contemporary as the day they were created.