Raleigh Rambles

John Dancy-Jones at large!

Ray Johnson Show a Multiple Power Play

 “to make open the eyes”   Josef Albers All work of Ray Johnson on this site is used by permission of The Ray Johnson Estate

BMC to NYC: The Tutelary Years of Ray Johnson (1943-1967)

Ray Johnson was probably the most enigmatic and least appreciated artist of his importance in the 20th century.  He was a man of many many layers, not so much depth, on first impression, just layers, fairly random factors that underlie and overlay his work.  The show just ended at The Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center had many layers itself, over multiple valuable events, and provided a greatly needed showcase and explication for this “seminal figure of Pop Art” whose collages “influenced a generation of contemporary artists.”

The show and especially its catalogue were already reviewed here, but several subsequent events have enriched the impact of the show.  Dr. Francis F. L. Beatty (quoted and seen above), a curator who works with the Ray Johnson Estate, gave a lecture at the BMCM+AC on May 21, using parallel slides to show that Ray displays elements in his collages that link him to the major artistic trends of the day.  His wit, humor and intense communications of all kinds were highly stimulating but hard to classify, but his collages and the palette he created out of found and encountered material can be seen as fully in the tradition of Klee’ as well as Albers,  while partaking of the humor of Dada.  “I don’t make pop art.  I make chop art.”  Ray’s statement refers to his use of old work in new, and Dr.  Beatty skillfully elucidated the way in which Ray’s “chop art” (often meticulous geometric constructions) came right out of his Black Mountain experience.  She makes a point that reverberated through this show: the liberation of American education happening at Black Mountain served as well to “liberate Ray Johnson.”   He found himself, and he found the principle that best illuminates the breadth of his work for me: images standing in for words, words become imagery.

ray_johnson by Rose Hartman via John Wilcock

Yet Ray remains enigmatic.  Dr. Beatty spent much time on the 55 Moticos – huge intricate collages – which Ray made and destroyed, calling them “some of the earliest and most significant examples of Pop Art.”   She recounted many personal interactions with Ray, such as the time he approached her and finally wanted to do a gallery display – of  “Nothings.”   Beyond his inscrutability, his avoidance of the commercial process, Dr. Beatty makes a simple but important point – the small scale of Ray’s visual work limited his gallery prospects and indirectly his artistic stature.

Asheville Vaudeville performer closes Ray’s show

 The scale of Ray’s imagination and willingness to live his life for art was unbounded, of course.  The final night of the show, orchestrated by curator Sebastian Matthews, was a truly wild and wonderful event that did much to reflect Ray’s spirit.  Music, poetry, and spoken word all filled the space.

“We have to seize the things we need to create.”  These words were spoken in Picasso’s voice by Keith Flynt, one of the closing night performers (seen below).

Earl Bragg, seen above, offered a nine-eleven poem that featured number names – worthy of Ray’s glyphs and puns.  His political themes and passionate phrases made for an excellent reading.

Local dramatists staged a reading of a collaged piece incorporating Ray’s play inside a play about Ray discussing a play with pink James Dean.

The final word has to go to Sebastian Matthews, who did such a magnificent job not only of putting on the show but of staying in touch with Ray’s spirit the whole time.  He evoked and nurtured the image of Ray as filled with humor, energy – and a total lack of any sense of propriety.  About the “chop art”  and “lost art” which was so prominent in the show, he says: “Ray loved to make things up, kill them off, and resurrect them.”

The Ray show is dead, long live the Ray show.

 

 

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July 1, 2010 - Posted by | art, Black Mountain, Ray Johnson | , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Looks like it was a great art show!

    Comment by Diehl Art Gallery | July 1, 2010

  2. Beautiful. Thank you for this. Can you please take a look at the project A BOOK ABOUT DEATH, inspired by Ray’s work and exhibited at The Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery in NYC (September 2009).

    See: http://abookaboutdeath.blogspot.com/
    Also: http://abookaboutdeatharchive.blogspot.com/

    Thanks for this… Arthur Secunda, a friend of Ray’s from high school pointed it out to me.

    Matthew Rose

    Comment by MATTHEW ROSE | July 26, 2010

  3. […] under discussion. It includes essays, interviews, and many topics for further exploration. With Sebastian Matthew’s 2010 show on Ray’s early years, the BMCMAC has provided a Ray J fan (and past correspondent) like myself with a rich set of […]

    Pingback by The BMCMAC Fires All Cylinders for Ray J’s Paper Snake Show « Raleigh Rambles | December 3, 2015


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