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György Galántai:

THE BUDAPEST STORY OF RAY JOHNSON (1982-1994)

It was in July of 1979, during one of Artpool's Art-Tour journeys in Italy, that we got RAY JOHNSON's mail address from Romano Peli in Parma. Peli has a serious mail art archive and he organized exhibitions. He was just preparing the "RAY JOHNSON NOTHING" exhibition. It was then that we met Cavellini for the first time, and agreed to do an exhibition in Budapest with him the following year.

It was easy to deal with Cavellini because he responded immediately to everything, but we didn't get any replies to our letters to Ray Johnson.

In 1982, the American artist, Ginny Lloyd, who knew Johnson personally, was visiting Artpool and found it strange that Ray hadn't answered us. I then decided to make one last try with a postcard action: I made twenty postcard-collages  and one after the other, I posted them in twenty days.

The answer arrived soon after, the first "send to" letter with drawings, demanding that we send it to Wally Darnell in Saudi Arabia. The drawing or the letter? The demand wasn't clear to me, so I decided not to passively deliver the letter, instead I wished to become a part of the action, so I photocopied the drawing.

There were four numbered Fan Club stamps on the drawing, with four characteristic "bunnies", I thought I should rearrange them, in this way, allowing for further additions.

A new decision was next: For the upcoming "ARTPOOL'S RAY JOHNSON SPACE", I would invent a background institution, the "BUDA RAY UNIVERSITY" (modeled on the Buddha University).

The modified drawing was multiplied and then sent to all of Artpool's mail connections, then back to Ray Johnson.

October 13, 1982 - He posted the second drawing with the "add to" stamp on it.

November 3, 1982 - He posted the third drawing.

December 22, 1982 - A letter arrived, referring to the second drawing with the inscription "Thank you for all your communications" and a Dora Maar Fan club stamp, and finally, a letter with a Yoko Ono Bunny stamp closed the year.

September 28, 1983 - the fourth drawing's inscription "Thank you for yaur" refers to the former letter (after nine months), and continues with "send to Peter Below", and the drawing: a duck in a cloud with the inscription DUCK CLOSE and with a ball-point pen OH BOYS ALWAYS THE SAME STYLE.

The BUDA RAY UNIVERSITY gained more and more participants through the continuous posting of the first four letters. The University published a book in 1985 that contained a selection of the letters that had been received up to that time.

February 13, 1986 - He posted the fifth drawing "BILL de KOONING'S BICYCLE SEAT" which arrived enclosed with a catalog of the Nassau Museum, in exchange for the Ray Johnson Artpool Book.

The fifth drawing was the most successful, many answers arrived in a short time. There were too many answers for the dimension of a book, so that we had to use another form of publication: the exhibition.

The ARTPOOL'S RAY JOHNSON SPACE was shown between 1986 and 1993 14 times in 8 different countries, as part of events or sometimes, independent programs.

April 8, 1986 - He asks us to let him know whether his letter from the 13th of February has arrived.

September 22, 1987 - He says "thank you for the stamp catalog and for the Triskel Arts Centre exhibition," signed: MR. MONTAUK, on the verso: MAIL ART THOUGHT and enclosed: THE LADDER CARRIER.

October 16, 1987 - "Ray Johnson is 60 years old" postcard (it was not sent by him) RAY JOHNSON FANNY CLUB. Reply: a flyer with the inscription "THE BUDAPEST RAY JOHNSON FANNY CLUB CELEBRATING RAY JOHNSON'S 60th BIRTHDAY THE 16th OF OCTOBER 1987"

In 1987 the booklet "TO LIVE IN A NEGATIVE UTOPIA" appeared, containing a selection of the answers that had arrived to the second letter since 1982.

March 4, 1988 - A letter thanking us for the publication of the "TO LIVE IN A NEGATIVE UTOPIA," demanding that we send a copy to Clive Phillpot in the Museum of Modern Art's archives + a drawing "Please send to berty Skuber" with the inscription ONE, SCENT, HALF. Verso: by transforming the photo of the young Johnson, he commemorates the NEW YORK SCHOOL OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST CORRESPONDENCE (1947-1987).

September 15, 1988 - Ray Johnson accounts his death in the near future "RAY JOHNSON 1927-1989" chalk drawing, signed MR. MONTAUK

June 5, 1990 - RAY JOHNSON, THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, TOKYO, an offset print with a portrait from his youth, which has been circulating for a long time in the Net.

November 9, 1993 - Felt tip pen drawing: BEST WISHES AND MUCH LOVE FROM THE NEW GUINEA CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL/ BIANCA JAGGER IS MY FAVORITE FLUXUS ARTIST, on the verso an offset-print: the drawing of Willem de Kooning continued by him in 1974. (In the reply, Artpool adds to the front a Ben drawing  and to the verso an envelope.)

February 25, 1994 - A red photocopy RAY JOHNSON THE SAN FRANCIS CORRESP ONDENCE SCHOOL / DON'T ODILON ME / with felt tip pen: THANKS BILL de KOONING / stamp: ODILON REDON FAN CLUB, the verso is a George Brecht page "TAMPON APPLICATOR." (Using the front page and the envelope Mr.Artpool asks Ray's opinion about a RAY SCHOOL in Budapest in 1994.)

April 20, 1994 - He took part in Artpool's "Hands" project. He made a round in hole in the palm. Artpool answered by filling in the hole with J.O. Olbrich's consignment of that same day.

May 2, 1994 - A second answer to the "Hands," a new cut combined with a frottage on the envelope. In reply, Artpool continues with two envelopes of the same date from John Held Jr. and Robin Crozier.

May 10, 1994 - A drawing from Sporzax, which he had sent to Ray Johnson and on which Ray Johnson had written "PLEASE SEND TO ARTPOOL H-1277 BUDAPEST 23 PF 52 HUNGARY." In the answer, Sporzax meets Ray in Artpool, and the response contains a text taken from Sporzax's envelope that originated with Tot Endre, "I AM GLAD IF..."

May 28, 1994 - FaGaGaGa postcard, the text "16 May 1994, 19 May 1994, 20 May 1994, message left on our answering machine by Ray Johnson. "Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof" etc., and in handwriting "I AM GLAD THERE IS YOU," with THE RAY JOHNSON FAN CLUB stamp.

June 20, 1994 - FaGaGaGa, the same postcard, the handwritten inscription, "RAY JOHNSON SAYS HELLO TO YOU."

July 30, 1994 - With the letter of Patricia Tavenner "Pat, please send to timbres d'Artistes, Paris Musee de LA POSTE (OR) ARTPOOL." Artpool's reply: a photocopy-work.

November, 1994 - Pat Tavenner writes that Ray asks for his original "timbres d'Artistes" back, the one sent through her in July. The original is sent back to Ray Johnson with a short text added (IN/ARTPOOL/OUT)

November 13, 1994 - TENSETENDONED (M.B. Corbett text) "Ray Johnson asked me to send you this item." On a half of the envelope from Artpool: 10.23.94. SALVADOR, PLEASE SEND TO: (with the Artpool stamp), the principle text is ambiguous from both sides. As an answer, Artpool makes folded copies and sends it back to Corbett's mail art magazine.

November 25, 1994 - Envelope by FAGAGAGA with stamps in Ray Johnson's style: "Picasso Gaglione has been dropped", "Ray Johnson has Been dropped", "Ken Friedman has Been dropped", "FaGaGaGa has been dropped", "ROY JOHNSON IS A WIMP!". Artpool makes copies of the envelope, and posts them, after cancellation, to all mentioned person.

January 13, 1995 - Ray Johnson performs his last "Nothing" and jumps off a bridge in Sag Harbor, New York State, into the glassy water.


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