Self-published, 1963-65. Offset lithography. 4to. (8 ½ x 14 in.) 13 pp. Unbound leaves in portfolio. Near Fine condition, creases on leaves from being sent in mail, some minor edge wear. Item #4142
A complete edition of the thirteen pages that comprise Ray Johnson’s Book About Death, a mail publication Johnson sent out one page at a time. Some pages creased due to being sent folded in the mail. The pages were printed offset individually by Johnson at the Pernet Printing Company and mailed out to members of the New York Correspondence School, though he purposefully did not send every page to any single reader so as to avoid the assemblage of a complete book. In essence, the book was to be a collaborative process spread between his many correspondents, and as a result these pages are rarely seen as a complete set.
Influenced by the Black Mountain School, Dada, Pop Art, and later Fluxus, Johnson is known as the originator of mail art, in which he used the mail-system and the format of correspondence to send friends and strangers original work. Beginning in late 1950s, his pieces became increasingly ambitious, utilizing collage, text, and various emblems of personal iconography. Often instructions were included with his pieces such as that the recipient add to the work and send it along to someone else. Following his influence, large systems of correspondence formed between artists, and mail art became a vital medium of collaboration among artists throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
The construction of A Book About Death sprawled over two years, as Johnson worked on no fixed schedule and would intermittently print and send new pages out. Thus, due to the ephemeral nature of the work, the order of the book and the process through which it should be assembled is not formally fixed. The sequencing of pages presented below was done by Clive Phillpot, a friend of Johnson’s and former librarian of the Museum of Modern Art.
The pages present in this edition are as follows:
[Page 1] “Mary Crehan, 4 choked to death…” [3/8/63]
[Page 2] “Cigar Bands from the Diane…” [3/15/63]
[Page 3] “Aunt Fritzi—What’s This?…” [9/10/63]
[Page 4] “8 Ton Show…Robin Gallery” [10/22/63]
[Page 5] “Andy Warhol” [11/5/63]
[Page 6] “Michael Malce…” [3/17/64]
[Page 7] “Anne and Bill… The Bad Ara…” [4/17/64]
[Page 8] “Zuckerman Harpsichords” [5/8/64]
[Page 9] “Cara Men Nda Mara” [7/8/64]
[Page 10] “Send 96…A Brick Snake…” [10/1/64]
[Page 11] “Cigar Band from the Ami Lowell…” [11/11/64]
[Page 12] “Send 96… Fred Herko…” [12/22/64]
[Page 15] “Boom… Papa R Snake…” [2/19/65]
These pages are enclosed in a paper folder within a hardbound slipcase, “Ray Johnson: Book About Death” printed on spine. Also included in this edition are five Xeroxes of pages of the Book of Death distributed at Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair at MOMA PS1 in 2014 for their Ray Johnson installation, facilitated by Boo-Hooray, stamped with copyright of Ray Johnson Estate, co. Richard L. Feigen & Co.