A Panel Discussion on Ray Johnson

Transcribed from live radio broadcast on the Pacifica Network's Artbreaking, on WBAI-FM in New York hosted by Charlie Finch. Portions reprinted from Coagula Art Journal #18.

Shortly after the death of Ray Johnson, WBAI-FM art critic Charlie Finch and Artforum Executive Publisher Knight Landesman assembled a panel to talk about Johnson's art and legacy. The panel: Chuck Close, artist; Jill Johnston, critic; Richard Feigen, dealer, Mark Bloch, multi-media and mail artist.

Charlie Finch: You're listening to WBAI-FM 99.5 on your dial. Commercial-free, listener-sponsored radio. Welcome to Artbreaking, the Thursday afternoon arts magazine. Knight, why don't you introduce our guests live in the studio.

Knight Landesman: I have a lot of guests that I'm thrilled are here. In the Artforum upcoming we have a bunch of recollections of Ray Johnson from six people who knew him. We have two of them in the studio today and we also have two other people who knew Ray very well. So I'd like to talk about Ray and what his art was about and what his life was about. I'll ask our guests to tell us who Ray Johnson was because they can do it much better than I will.

I'm pleased to have in the studio today the marvellous painter Chuck Close, Jill Johnston, Richard Feigen, Mark Bloch and our host Charlie Finch, who knew Ray a little bit in relationship to this show.

Charlie Finch: Ray was a fan, I'm happy to say. Later on we'll be able to hear some messages. Mark Bloch has brought some tape.

Knight Landesman: Great! So we'll actually be able to hear the voice of Ray. Why Ray Johnson? Who was Ray Johnson for you? Let's go around the table and have everyone talk about who Ray was for them. Was he important? Who is he? Lets start with Chuck.

Chuck Close: Ray was a much more important artist than was generally recognized by the art world. He was an idiosyncratic figure. I think he was very inventive in bringing his work, through his collages, and things that he's known for, actually, predating Pop Art with the use of pop subject matter before Lichtenstein and Warhol. But, probably, he is best known to the general public as the inventor of the Correspondence School and of mail art.

Knight Landesman: How would you describe mail art? Was it something than an artist would make and send to other people?

Chuck Close: Well, alot of it was generated by Ray. That is, he sent things out and he sort of orchestrated a path for each of these things. He would send something to me and say 'add to and send to so and so' and you were supposed to send it on. We didn't always do it because sometimes we liked the stuff so much. We wanted to keep it. But eventually, it would make its circuitous way to wherever Ray had decided it should go.

Knight Landesman: When did he start to do mail art?

Chuck Close: I'm not sure exactly when he did start. In the 60s I think.

Mark Bloch: Well he founded his New York Correspondance School in 1962 though it offically started in 1968. But I noticed there was a correspondence with his friend Arthur Secuda who is a working artist, still. That was as early as 1943, where he was decorating his envelopes and playing around with the mail.

Knight Landesman: That's Mark Bloch speakin