RAY JOHNSON DESIGNS AT MoMA LIBRARY

Untitled [Strange Devices...] c. 1955-1960 (image MoMA Library)

Untitled [Strange Devices…] c. 1955-1960 (image MoMA Library)

I am very excited about this new exhibition, Ray Johnson Designs, now on view at the Museum of Modern Art. Those familiar with the work of Ray Johnson will know about his correspondence art – letters, drawings, collages, and prints he sent to friends and family through the mail. Lesser known is his graphic design work, which this exhibition highlights. Ray Johnson Designs is on view until September 29th.

More information about the exhibition is provided on the website, by curator David Senior:

The art of Ray Johnson (American, 1927–1995) was rooted in his prolific correspondence. Throughout his life, he mailed a tremendous number of collages, drawings, and printed matter to friends and colleagues. Among the recipients were several staff members at The Museum of Modern Art, most notably the curator Dorothy Miller, who received Johnson’s mailings from the mid-1950s on, and the library director Clive Phillpot, who corresponded with Johnson in the 1980s and 1990s. This exhibition focuses on Johnson’s early printed materials, especially his self-promotional flyers and booklets for his work as a designer and illustrator in the 1950s and early 1960s. These were some of the first things Johnson sent to the Museum, and they contain the hand-lettering and complex wordplay that were recognizable aspects of his style throughout his artistic career.

In addition to the flyers, the exhibition includes examples of Johnson’s print designs, including covers for books and records as well as contributions to fashion magazines. These works also reveal elements of Johnson’s biography, such as his friendship with Andy Warhol, who provided Johnson with introductions for commercial design work. Other materials, such as the flyers for the Living Theater (an experimental theater in New York City), are artifacts of Johnson’s participation in a downtown scene that was teeming with new energy and ideas from visual artists, musicians, dancers, and poets. These self-published flyers were first circulated within that scene and are an early example of Johnson’s unconventional methods of distributing his work.

Hand-lettered backdrop by Ray Johnson. From New York Times Fashion Supplement, March 2, 1958. © The Ray Johnson Estate, Courtesy Richard L. Feigen & Co.

Hand-lettered backdrop by Ray Johnson. From New York Times Fashion Supplement, March 2, 1958. © The Ray Johnson Estate, Courtesy Richard L. Feigen & Co.

Untitled [If Tears are Dropped]. c.1961. Gift of William S. Wilson. (image MoMA Library)

Untitled [If Tears are Dropped]. c.1961. Gift of William S. Wilson. (image MoMA Library)

Rogers & Hart's On Your Toes. New York: Columbia Records, 1956 (image MoMA Library)

Rogers & Hart’s On Your Toes. New York: Columbia Records, 1956 (image MoMA Library)

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