NOTHNG OF THE MONTH CLUB
Ray Johnson might have imagined the red block letters of Taoist Pop Art School (1994) [pictured], spelling out the words “unanswered red letters,” to themselves be unanswered red letters. Or maybe he was punning on “unanswered read letters,” referencing the New York Correspondence School (sometimes alternately spelled “Correspondance”), a mail art circuit which he founded in the mid-1950s and presided over through its final year in 1973. Either way, “NOTHNG OF THE MONTH CLUB” at Off Paradise might be read as an answer: a presentation of work by 14 artists that, collectively, honors Johnson’s spirit in myriad ways.
What defined Johnson’s oeuvre? For one, he had a compulsion toward the communal and the unusual collaborations that came to fruition therein, often with a bent toward self-deprecating humor. In that vein, there’s Erik La Prade’s THIS IS NOT DAVID HAMMONS’ PHONE # (c. 2013), a leaf from a notepad upon which David Hammons once scrawled a fake phone number. There’s a Duchampian trickster sensibility, as in Marlon Mullen’s Untitled (2015), in which the string of letters “INART” is suspended in front of a green field, drawing associations with both the adjective “inert” and the phrase “in art,” both of which apply.
And, of course, there is his ease with death. Johnson leaped from a bridge and backstroked until he met his end. But, like the subject of Robert Hawkins’s The Last Dodo (2020) triptych, he would not be forgotten—nor would he disappear from our shared, cultural imagination.
Ray Johnson, Taoist Pop Art School, 1994.