A Blog for the Exhibition, From BMC to NYC: The Tutelary Years of Ray Johnson
(1943-1967) Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville NC
February 19th - June 12th, 2010
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
"You are going to find that studying Ray becomes a discovery of yourself to yourself, yet also a revelation of yourself to others"
How right you are, Mr. Wilson.
Bill wrote these words to me at the start of an email last year, early in this show's curatorial process. I read these words as a warning--wisdom from a long-time expert in the field to a novice curator blithely sauntering in. A kind of polite "Don't mess this up, kid." Of late, however, I have begun to read them as a metaphoric gateway entrance to the formal garden that is Ray Johnson's seemingly ever expanding body of work and its burgeoning legacy.
Discovery, indeed. My sense of what kind of artist Ray Johnson is (and was and will be in the future, if that makes sense) has been altered over and over again in a continuous revision process such that I know longer even think of bunny heads and mail art envelopes as the quintessential (trademark) aspects of Ray's work. They are the flowers blossoming at the tip of a branch of the flowering tree. Low-hanging fruit. For me, for now, it's Ray's early love of letter writing and doodling, and his BMC-inspired foray into painting, his fascination with "glyph" markings and reversals, his incessant punning and "name gaming" that exemplify the true nature of his work. And these, too, may only be cuttings off the main trunk. The sap, so to speak, hides inside the ever protected and self-protecting core.
As Donna de Salva put it in her marvelous book Correspondences: "If Rauschenberg introduced art into life, then Ray introduced life into art." I might add "back" near the end of that sentence, for what Ray insists on his art, some sort of intellectual and spiritual immediacy that favors the moment, is an ancient truth. Ray taps into something old in his work, something dark and mysterious.
I have now written myself into a ditch. "Yet also a revelation of yourself to others." Ha!