Ray Johnson exhibition opens at BMCM+AC on June 5

Ray Johnson, Red Snakes, c. 1980s. (c) The Ray Johnson Estate, Courtesy Richard L. Feigen & Co.

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center hosts the new exhibition Something Else Entirely: Ray Johnson, Dick Higgins and the making of THE PAPER SNAKE. The exhibit will be on display through Aug. 22 and opens on Friday, June 5 with a reception and gallery talk from 5:30-8 p.m.

Press release from BMCM+AC:

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in downtown Asheville presents the new exhibition SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY: Ray Johnson, Dick Higgins and the making of THE PAPER SNAKE from June 5 – August 22, 2015 with a free opening reception on Friday, June 5 from 5:30 – 8:00pm. There will be a gallery talk by the exhibition’s curator Michael von Uchtrup at 7:00pm during the opening reception. The following day, we’ll have a public discussion with two Ray Johnson scholars, Michael von Uchtrup and Julie J. Thomson, moderated by UNC Asheville Professor of Philosophy Brian E. Butler.

Ray Johnson (1927-1995) arrived at Black Mountain College from Detroit at age 17, for the 1945 Summer Institute, as WWII was coming to a close. The formidable Josef Albers was at the helm, and by the time Johnson left the college more than three years later, he’d studied alongside fellow students Hazel Larsen Archer, Ruth Asawa and Kenneth Noland while both Josef and Anni Albers, Ilya Bolotowski, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Lyonel Feininger, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Richard Lippold, Alvin Lustig, Robert Motherwell, M.C. Richards, and many others taught at or visited BMC during this robust era of its history. In 1949, Ray arrived in New York with sculptor Richard Lippold, where he continued several friendships – and embarked upon new ones – with others who had come to the city from Black Mountain College.

Lost for decades, the production materials from this innovative compendium of Ray Johnson’s mail art were only recently rediscovered, in time for the book’s republication and the 50th anniversary of its 1965 release. Lively, quirky, often comic, the texts and drawings provide an intimate look at the early work of Ray Johnson (1927-1995) through the eyes of his friend Dick Higgins (1938-1998), one of the Fluxus movement’s impresarios and the founder of the groundbreaking Something Else Press. THE PAPER SNAKE appeared before it could be widely appreciated, because in 1965 Ray Johnson was not well known outside of the New York Correspondence School, the mail art network he’d created.

Throughout his career, Johnson always found ways to engage those around him—mentors, friends and strangers alike—in a correspondence “dance” of collage, letter writing and interactive performance art. Following in Marcel Duchamp’s footsteps, Johnson, as one art critic put it, “introduced life into art.”


Saturday, June 6, 2:00 p.m.
Snakes Escape – with Michael von Uchtrup + Julie J. Thomson, moderated by Brian E. Butler
A conversation between two Ray Johnson scholars looking at this enigmatic artist’s career with a particular emphasis on the evolution and making of The Paper Snake and his other books.
Free BMCM+AC members + students w/ID / $5 non-members

Wednesday, June 10, 7:30 p.m.
The Founding of the Farm at Black Mountain College
David Silver, associate professor of media studies, environmental studies, and urban agriculture at the University of San Francisco, will present a definitive history of the founding of the farm at Black Mountain College.
Free Admission

Thursday, June 11, 7:30 p.m.
Poets Katherine Soniat and Kathryn Stripling Byer will read from their latest book projects, The GoodBye Animals and The Vishnu Bird.
$5 BMCM+AC members & students w/ID / $8 for non-members

Friday, July 3, 8:00 p.m.
Informed by a three year correspondence, in the arm of flowers, is an interdisciplinary performance by Megan Ransmeier and Julia Rich. Two women inhabit a mythic landscape of sand and ice, inviting inclusive spectrums of connection through voice, body, and object relations.
$8 for BMCM+AC members + students w/ID / $10 non-members

Sunday, July 12, 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Image Speak taught by Lynn Underwood, expressive arts educator and coach. This workshop will focus on process as opposed to product, creating images (including collage and mandala) with a variety of media and then giving each image a voice through writing. Call 828-350-8484 to register.
$35 BMCM+AC members + students w/ID / $45 non-members

Thursday, August 20, 7:30 p.m.
How to Draw a Bunny. John Walter and Andrew Moore’s award-winning documentary tells the story of collage artist Ray Johnson, whose death was cloaked in mystery and whose life and art remain enigmatic. A real-life art mystery tale.
$5 BMCM+AC members & students w/ID / $8 for non-members

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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