IS IT MAIL ART?
In his article called Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Hockney's iPad Paintings in the Atlantic Alex Hoyt compares Hockney's emailed drawings (above) to Ray Johnson's mail art sendings.
After reading Hoyt's article and watching videos of David Hockney talking about the letters he sends from the iPad I reflected on my research and experience in mail art. The first point that comes to mind is that David Hockney is a very famous art figure in his lifetime. In contrast, Ray Johnson was called “New York’s most famous unknown artist".
A trip to Artpool's Ray Johnson pages reveals an array of his unknown artworks. http://www.artpool.hu/Ray/raymap.html
In addition to famous contrasting with unknown artist, another dissimilarity is the narrow distribution of Hockney's mailed drawings compared to Johnson's. Hockney has a list of about 30 people he sends the drawings too. The digital drawings are sent to delight his personal friends. Hockney mentions that he gives very few people his address so no interaction is expected. Johnson sent to hundreds and thousands of people he knew and people he didn't know. For example, Johnson sent 116 invitations to submit work to the 1970 New York Correspondance School show at the Whitney Museum. In his daily practice Johnson mailed starter layers upon which he invited people to intervene, respond, or add and pass. This resulted in layers of art that moved around the world under no control of Johnson's. In addition, Johnson put his return address on the outgoing mail even though he knew it would be sent beyond his immediate addressee. Ray Johnson used the mail as a social postal performance creating a global community of interconnected artists.
Some of the best writing on Ray Johnson is by his friend Bill Wilson who characterized Johnson's New York Correspondance School as "an art of witty resemblances; it originates with Ray Johnson, but any number can play."
Where does mail art begin and end these days? Art exchange is prevalent on the Internet through distribution and adaptation of creative works both legal and illegal.
David Hockney is a major artist and I admire his adoption of new communication tools for art making. Ray Johnson is a historical figure whose work predated social media by decades. Johnson's long-lived Mail Art networks should be studied as the amazing global phenomenon that thrives years after his death. In fact some of his projects are still being intervened upon. After reflection on these contrasting mailings by two artists I deeply admire, I don't think Hoyt's given a convincing comparison of Hockney's intimate and narrow use of email to Johnson's global use of the postal system and the vitality of Johnson's ongoing mail art network.
I look forward to hearing from other mail artists...
Quote from Hoyt's Article:
The commercial art world seems to think the jury's still out aboutHockney's iPad period, according to Charlie Scheips, the show's curator.
Some have dismissed it as his latest dalliance. Yet for Scheips, the
opinions of the art world miss the point of a show about the creative
use of a new, intimate medium.
"Fresh Flowers" began with Hockney creating an image and zipping it off to a dozen friends. Though thepaintings look like fluorescent Matisses, in spirit they're descended
from Mail Art, the absurdist movement pioneered by Ray Johnson and his
New York School of Correspondence in the 1960s. That band of artsy
pranksters made works out of anything -- rubber stamps, postmarks,
signatures, photocopies -- as long as it fit on a postcard they could
send to the world.
Their philosophy rebelled against the haughty hierarchy of galleries, but in 1970 Ray Johnson organized an exhibition at The Whitney.Hockney's current exhibition presents a similar paradox: this
everyman's app art, which inherently can't be auctioned off, is on
display in the former studio of Yves St. Laurent, the home of Haute
Couture and the height of exclusivity.
While his digital exhibition challenges the norms of commercial art, Hockney still has tomake money. There are no originals to sell for ungodly sums. You could
print the images, but on regular paper, without their luminous screen,
they look wan and watery. The best option for selling them, Scheips
suggests, might be an app catalogue, which would let us browse Hockney's
entire iOeuvre. That way, each new image would come to us--with no
gallery or curator required -- as the latest course in a moveable feast.
"Bryan Appleyard Interviews David Hockney 1 and 2 ." Video. YouTube. Bryan Appleyard. 2011. Web. 27 Sep 2011. <http://youtu.be/s2W_YrnCvK0>. <http://youtu.be/WSj1uLCaiZQ>.
Hoyt, Alex. "Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Hockney's iPad Paintings." Atlantic.
10 Dec 2010: n. page. Web. 27 Sep. 2011.
"Me Draw on iPad." Graphic. Exhibitions / Past exhibitions / David Hockney: Me Draw On iPad. David Hockney. Humlebæk: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2011. Web. 27 Sep 2011. <http://www.louisiana.dk/uk/Menu/Exhibitions/Past+exhibitions/David+Hockney%3a+Me+Draw+On+iPad>.
Revich, Allen. "Ray Johnson - Educator." Digital Salon. (2004): n. page. Web. 1 Oct. 2011. <http://www.digitalsalon.com/ray_johnson.html>.
Wilson, William. "NY Correspondance School." www.warholstars.org. (2004): n. page. Web. 1 Oct. 2011. <http://www.warholstars.org/warhol/warhol1/andy/warhol/articles/wilson/ray/johnson.html>.