MAILART 1955 TO 1995:



This thesis evaluates the importance of mailart in the late 1990s, traces its development and examines the reasons for the changes that have taken place in the nature of mailart practice.

The first three chapters identify the phases of mailart as; Ray Johnson orchestrating his circle of correspondents and the New York Correspondance (sic) School, Fluxus and conceptual artists exploring the postal system as a subject for artwork and finally the democratisation of mailart through the considerable increase of participants as result of Mail Art Projects. Chapter four explores the politicisation of mailart and debates that took place between mailartists on the way in which mailart developed in the 1980s.

The final chapter identifies mailart in the second half of the 1990s as being open to all with the means to pay the postage. It argues that mailart networking, situates itself outside the Fine Art canon, by eschewing identifiable producers and products and has no ambitions to become part of that canon. The main focus of the thesis, using Beuysian theories, identifies the democracy of mailart, not only in accepting all who wish to participate and everything that they wish to use in their interactions with other networkers, but also in having no control system, no hierarchy, no judges or jurors and no selection of either its producers or its products.

The thesis discusses mailart as being non-judgemental, privileging participation over content and style. It argues that a mailartist is defined simply by participation, rather than training, experience, age, gender, race, religion or ability. The thesis demonstrates that mailart does not define its art by an individual sending (nor by something received), arguing that the artwork being intangible is not exhibitable because it is the network as a whole, a social sculpture, the interaction between peoples that is the artwork.

MAILART 1955 TO 1995:



A thesis submitted in fullfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in the University of East Anglia, School of World Art Studies and Museology.

October 1997.

This copy of the thesis has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is understood to recognise that its copyright rests with the author and that no quotation from the thesis, nor any information derived therefrom, may be published without the author's prior written consent.


I am indebted to all mailartists with whom I have corresponded, without them this thesis would not have been possible. I am especially grateful to the large number of networkers who have answered my persistent questions about their activity and the numerous people who have kept me up-to-date with newspaper articles and general writings on mailart, both contemporary and historical. Ongoing thanks are due to the many mailartists who have sent me their unwanted mailart, confirming my belief that although each networker has his/her own network, the overall work received is much the same. Finally I would like to emphasise that inclusion or exclusion of any networkers in this thesis is not a comment on the quality of their work or their importance as mailartists: such an idea is contrary to my belief in what mailart is, as will become clear from a reading of this work. Networkers have been chosen because they conveniently illustrate a point that I wish to make. In the firm belief that mailart is egalitarian and in the public domain, as well as being in support of Anticopyright and Plagiarism I have sought no permission to reproduce anything that is quoted or reproduced within this thesis, although all references are credited.


Chapter 1. Ray Johnson.

1.1. Introduction. 13

1.2. Ray Edward Johnson. 14

1.3. Moticos. 23

1.4. Mailart. 26

1.5. Punning. 31

1.6. Orchestrating. 32

1.7. Naming the Activity. 36

1.8. Conclusion. 37


Chapter 2. Fluxus and Postal Ephemera.

2.1. Introduction. 40

2.2. The Conception of Fluxus. 41

2.3. Publications. 45

2.4. Postal Elements. 53

2.5. Postcards. 62

2.6. Conclusion. 64


Chapter 3. The Democratisation of Mailart.

3.1. Introduction. 66

3.2. The Culture of the 1970s. 66

3.3. Magazine Articles. 69

3.4. Exhibitions. 72

3.5. Mail Art Projects. 75

3.6. Exhibiting MAPs. 86

3.7. Documentation. 91

3.8. The Geographical Spread of Mailart. 95

3.9. Conclusion. 104


Chapter 4. Re-considering Mailart.

4.1. Introduction. 105

4.2. The Effect of Photocopying on Mailart. 105

4.3. Congresses. 110

4.4. Tourism. 113

4.5. Politics and Mailart. 118

4.6. Conclusion. 127


Chapter 5. An Evaluation of Mailart in the Second Half of the 1990s.

5.1. Introduction. 129

5.2. Identifying Mailart in the Second Half of the 1990s. 129

5.3. A Comparison of Art & Mailart in Second Half of the 1990s 132

5.4. Is Mailart Art? 139

5.5. The Need for a Mailart Network. 142

5.6. The Importance of Mailart. 144

5.7. The Future of Mailart. 155

5.8. Conclusion. 159





As the majority of the plates are of photocopies, they have been reproduced as such in order to maintain consistency, the plates that are not of photocopies have been reproduced in the same way. All dimensions of works have been given where known.

I have argued that the 'object' in mailart is not the artwork and it is for this reason that I have only reproduced works where it is important in order to understand the text. The considerable number of reproductions of Johnson's work is intended to clarify the points made in the text.

1. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'RAY' Badge, date unknown. steel multiple. Collection Clive Phillpot, New York.

2. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'RAY JOHNSON 1927 - 1995.' 1995, multiple photocopy on paper. A4. Collection E.Z. Smith, Fresno, California.

3. Ray Johnson. Moticos photographed on the studio floor. 1955. Photo. Elisabeth Novick.

4. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Rimbaud.'1956. Collage with letter. 7 1/4"x 4 3/4". Collection William S. Wilson, New York.

5. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Bunnys' 1968 - 1975. Details of drawings on paper, Collection Clive Phillpot, New York.

6. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Count Zeppelin.' 1956. Detail. Collage. Size unknown. Location unknown, reproduced in Voice, (January 31, 1995).

7. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Buddha University' 1975. Collage, drawing with letter on paper. USA A4. Collection Ronny Cohen, New York.

8. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Lumber Party' 1993. photocopy on paper. A4. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

9. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Venice Lockjaw' Badge. 1990. steel multiple. Collection Clive Phillpot, New York.

10.Ray Johnson. Untitled - Envelope Johnson to Lumb. 1992. paper. 240 X 107mm. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

11.Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Send Slips to Lucy Lippard'. date unknown. multiple (offset) A4. Collection Edward Plunkett, New York.

12. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Bill de Kooning's Bicycle Seat' photocopy on paper, multiple. A4. date unknown. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

13. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Meeting Seating' 1968. drawing on paper. A4. Collection David Bourdon, New York.

14. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Nothing' 1974. photocopy on paper. USA A4. Collection Robin Crozier, Sunderland.

15. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Snake' 1968. drawing on paper. detail. Collection Suzi Gablik, New York.

16. Nam June Paik. 'The Monthly Review of the University for Avant-Garde Hinduism'. 1963. Collection Gilbert and Lila Silverman, New York.

17. Ken Friedman, James Riddle, Ben Vautier, Robert Watts. 'Flux Post Kit 7' 1968. mixed media. Multiple. Collection Gilbert and Lila Silverman, New York.

18. Robert Watts. 'Safepost / K.U.K. Feldpost /Jokpost.' 1962. Multiple. Collection Gilbert and Lila Silverman, New York.

19. Robert Watts. 'Yamflug / Post 5' 1965. Multiple. Collection Gilbert and Lila Silverman, New York.

20. George Maciunas. 'Fluxpost (Smiles)' 1978. Multiple. Collection Gilbert and Lila Silverman, New York.

21. Ben Vautier. 'The Postman's Choice' 1965. double sided postcard, 8,5 x 14 cm. Multiple. Collection Gilbert and Lila Silverman, New York.

22. Ray Johnson. Untitled - 'Send Letters ...' 1970. Multiple on paper. USA A4. Collection Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

23. Ryosuke Cohen. Untitled - 'Brain Cell.' 1991. Goccho print. multiple. A3. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

24. Robin Crozier. 'MEMO(RANDOM) MEMORY.' 1997. A4. Ink on Paper. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

25. Guglielmo Achille Cavellini. 'Cavellini 1914 - 2014' 103 mm Diameter. Sticker. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

26. Sal Wood, 'Under My Skin.' 1994. documentation envelope. A4. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

27. Pawel Petasz, 'Ten Theses' 1981. Page from book, 7 1/2" X 5 7/16." Lino cut Unlimited edition. . Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

28. Pawel Petasz, 'Touching Small Loins and Ideas' 1981. Page from book, edition 22. 7 1/2" X 5 7/16". Offset prints. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

29. Gerard Barbot, Ryosuke Cohen, Daniel Daligand, John Held Jr., Shigeru Nakayama, Shozo Shimamoto, 'Hiroshima Shadow Project' 1988. Photo reproduced in AU 99. (1. Apr. 1989) Nishomiya Hyogo.

30. Angela & Peter Netmail. Untitled envelope. 1992. A4. Artistamp and Rubberstamps on paper. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

31. Ryosuke Cohen, 'Neoism' c.1990. Goccho print on envelope. A4. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.

32. Marcello Diotallevi, 'Lettere al Mittente.' 1981. Photograph reproduced in Lightworks, 1 (19). (Winter 1988/89), 56.

33. Letter, Senator Cranston to J. Brian Atwood. July 11th. 1980 reproduced in Padin, C. Solidaridad, self published, Montivideo, 1991, n.p.

34. Various, 'International Art Post.' Vol.3 No.3 - Sheet 6/7, December 1990. Photosilk screen on gummed paper, perforated. 6 1/4" X 5 7/8" Printed by Anna Banana. Collection Michael Lumb, Ipswich.