Ray Johnson made up a word to call his artwork. The word’s definition, even its place in a sentence, is elusive and mutable. Like the man who coined it, an ever-moving target.
I’ve gone to see Johnson’s show at the museum a few times and intend to see it a few times more. It showed up at just the right time for me. I wrote a review, but unlike so many shows/books/movies/plays I’ve written about over the past decade-plus, I think this exhibit, and the accompanying catalogue, will continue to feed my own work going forward.
Not least of what I respond to in Johnson’s work is the humor. There’s wordplay, puns, satire, and a lot of poker-faced deadpan business of various type. It’s the thing I’m able to do with the collages that I couldn’t in painting.
There are funny painters out there, but I was never one of them. True comedy’s a lot harder than darkness in a picture to me. The darkness will always be there, but comedy is a way out and I can rarely get there.
I noticed a few visitors to the collage show sticking their faces close to this piece or that, then laughing. I didn’t ask what made them laugh. I don’t want the formula. But I’m glad it happened.
Aside from the humor, maybe the biggest thing Ray Johnson reminded me of is something I’ve always known: that art is not a part-time thing, nor a job at which you punch the clock at one hour and punch out at another. You have to live it all the time.
I do that.
I’m taking it down Saturday evening. Drop a line if you want to see it before then.
[RIP Louie Anderson. His Christine Baskets was one of the best characters ever put on TV.]