Born and educated in Detroit, the elusive American artist Ray Johnson (1927–1995) developed a conceptual practice that incorporated the concerns of Neo-Dada, Fluxus, and Pop, while resisting classification within a single style and “craft[ing] an approach that allowed the random, coincidental, and ephemeral to occupy the same plane of critical consideration as more traditional and universal concerns,” in the words of curator Donna De Salvo.
Johnson relocated to New York City in 1949, turning to collage as well as performance art in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, he would stage events he coined “Nothings” as a counterpoint to Allan Kaprow’s contemporaneous “Happenings.” Johnson established the New York Correspondance School, which became an international postal network of creative exchange. His “correspondence art” comprised drawings and letters that he would mail to other artists and friends, whom he would sometimes ask to embellish and return or send to a wider artistic community. In 1969, he settled in Long Island, where he largely retreated from the public eye while continuing to create more complex collages and engage with his correspondence projects. Johnson was last seen diving off a bridge and drowning to his death in Sag Harbor in 1995 in what many believe to be his final performance.