|Works of postal art by a variety of influential avant-garde artists are on view this summer at LINC. The exhibition, “Correspon-dance,” includes postcards, envelopes, letters, artist postage stamp sheets, and related postal ephemera, by noted 20th century artists Joseph Beuys, Al Brandtner, G. A. Cavellini, Ryosuke Cohen, Lowell Darling, Donald Evans, William Farley, Picasso Gaglione, Ray Johnson, Stanley Marsh 3, Ben Vautier, Robert Watts, H. C. Westermann and Beatrice Woods.
Postal activity by artists often reveal the intimate concerns of private creators. Such was the case of Ray Johnson, credited as the “Father of Mail Art,” birthed in the mid-1950s. During the next decade, Fluxus artists (such as Beuys, Vautier and Watts) experimented with the mediums' communicative and conceptual potentials. Cavellini, Cohen, Darling, Evans, Farley and Gaglione were active participants in establishing an underground Mail Art network during the 1970s. Marsh, Westermann and Woods embraced more private moments with their correspondents.
Included in the exhibition is a letter by Ray Johnson dropping curator Held from his New York Correspondance School; a stampsheet by Robert Watts, currently installed in the reopened MOMA/New York Print Collection; a degree of “Finds Art” by Mail Art pioneer Lowell Darling; a Fluxus West postcard by Joseph Beuys; Texas-size envelopes and letters by Stanley Marsh 3, patron of the Cadillac Ranch; a series of postage stamps by Moscow artist Natalie Lamanova, whose animation of the stamps will also be available for viewing on DVD; and the Patriot Act postage stamp sheet by Chicago artist Al Brandtner, the focus of a 2005 Secret Service investigation, much like the 1971 visit paid to William Farley in regard to his stampsheet, USXX.
Mail Art has currently enjoyed a resurgence of interest since many of its communication strategies are currently viewed as having preceded the emergence of the Internet. Besides incorporating various communication strategies (unedited collaborative publishing, add and pass, free copyright, open names), Mail Art has a subversive nature, often used to satirize, scold and soften the edges of bureaucracy, be it postal or political.
The exhibition is drawn from the collection of San Francisco artist John Held, Jr., who has written extensively on alternative culture. His essay on Mail Art exhibitions recently appeared in Art at a Distance: Precursors to Art and Activism on the Internet, published by MIT Press. Held was the subject of a recent profile on KQED-TV, focusing on his proclivity for collecting and placing collections with the Getty Museum, MOMA/New York and the Smithsonian Institution Archive of American Art.