Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mae West: Ray Johnson

During the 1950s, Ray Johnson began using images of MAE WEST in his artwork in a way that anticipated the 1960s works of Pop artists (such as Warhol).
• • Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ray Edward Johnson (1927 — 1995) was a seminal figure of the Pop Art movement. Primarily a collagist, Johnson was also an early performance and conceptual artist. Once called “New York’s most famous unknown artist," he is considered the “Founding Father of Mail Art" and pioneered the incorporation and use of language in the visual arts.
• • Until his death in 1995, Johnson continued his work in collage, sent out volumes of mail art, and staged numerous performances. He became increasingly reclusive, however. As his contemporaries became famous, Johnson cultivated his role as an outsider, parodying celebrity through performances, fake openings, and photocopy-machine art. From 1982 on, he repeatedly refused offers from numerous galleries to exhibit his art, and for the last five years of his life, he refused all public exhibitions of his works. On 13 January 1995, Ray Johnson’s body was found floating in a small cove in Sag Harbor, NY. He was 67 years old.
• • An ambitious posthumous show at the Richard L. Feigen Gallery — — which opens today on Wednesday, 29 April 2009 (and runs through the end of July 2009) — — will reveal the shared interests and iconography of Ray Johnson, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol. This exhibition will feature an exciting selection of previously unexhibited collages by Ray Johnson that will show his distinct and incessant layering of re-appropriated imagery from Surrealism, high culture, and Pop Art. The three artists all exploited celebrity — — both their own and others’ — — and constructed powerful personae that were an integral part of their work. While Dali and Warhol sought the limelight in order to promote their art, Johnson was more interested in dodging in and out of it and became famous for being ‘unknown.’
• • Curiously, the lives and the art of Ray Johnson, Dali, and Warhol were intertwined, from the Factory to Studio 54, from the late 1950s through the 1980s. The exhibition will illustrate Johnson’s exploration of themes common to Dali and Warhol — — celebrity, gender ambiguity, and religion. Collages and mail art by Johnson and works by Dali and Warhol share references to Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, the Mona Lisa, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and Jesus Christ. As curator Frédérique Joseph-Lowery discusses in the accompanying catalogue, “For all three artists, the female body became a sort of rendez-vous of experimentation for formal strategies regarding the interaction and ‘relationship’ of painting, collage, photography, stamping, photocopying….”
• • The exhibition is being held at this Manhattan dealer's gallery: Richard L. Feigen — — 34 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10021.

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