PRINT April 1995

Something about Nothing

RAY JOHNSON STARTED mail art some 35 years ago. Now everyone’s doing E-mail art.

Did Ray go away because he couldn’t stand the proliferation—the vulgarization—of his cherished medium? His last message to me was on my phone machine a couple of years ago: “It’s Pablo speaking.” And he hung up.

Ray Johnson learned something about “nothing” from John Cage back in the Black Mountain College days in the early ’50s. The problem was that he learned it too well. “When you negate everything, why not negate careerism too?” Twice in the early ’60s Ray turned down one-man-show offers from a very prominent gallery. He extended nothingness to its logical conclusion.

I asked Cage in 1960 at Peggy Guggenheim’s palazzo in Venice: “Why do you compose?”

Cage: “Because I promised Schoenberg I would.”

Paik: “Why do you still compose?”

Cage: “It is important to do meaningless things.”

Paik: “Treue um Treue, à la

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