Critics’ Picks

Ray Johnson, Please add to and return to Ray Johnson, date unknown, color xerography and collage, 8 1/4 x 11".

New York

“Mapping Correspondence: Mail Art in the 21st Century”

The Center for Book Arts
28 West 27th Street Third Floor
July 25–June 28

Mail art, the subject of “Mapping Correspondence: Mail Art in the 21st Century,” may seem tangential to the curatorial focus of the workshop and exhibition space Center for Book Arts. Yet the practice, also called correspondence art, is rooted in the same democratic and craftily subversive (corruption of mail is a felony!) ideals as those of the book arts; likewise, many book-arts practitioners disperse their work via mail art. Defined by its mode of circulation rather than its form, mail art’s ability to shift media allows it to blend into other genres like computer art, performance, poetry, and even sculpture. Organized by Champe Smith, this densely packed exhibition explores the relationship of mail art to the fringes of the worlds of fine art, multiples, and one-off experiments by inviting artists to submit work to CBA through the postal service. These artists invited others to do the same, creating generations of correspondence and some collaboration, like Shinsuke Aso’s trove of postcards, SAPC (Shinsuke Aso Post Card), 2008, which are available for purchase and invite further dissemination by the exhibition’s viewers.

“Mapping Correspondence” also includes significant historical objects, reinforcing mail art’s role in the pre–electronically networked twentieth century. Dick Higgins’s postcard Untitled, 1983—which bears the words THE WORD IS NOT DEAD, ETC—is one of several Fluxus works included here. CBA’s announcement for a 1975 meeting of mail-art pioneer Ray Johnson’s Spam Radio Club and other of Johnson’s works are contrary, poetic, and marked by dry humor. Along with the contemporary work, this section of the exhibition posits a mail-art history that is as aesthetically nuanced as it is literal and literary.