In 1988, Robert Warner first came across a piece of mail art sent by Ray Johnson to a mutual friend. Intrigued, he contacted Johnson, who called him a few days later. That phone call initiated an intense, fascinating exchange between Johnson and Warner that lasted until Johnson’s death in 1995. Over the course of their relationship Warner received hundreds of pieces of mail art from Johnson, ranging from collages to a piece of driftwood hand-delivered to the eyewear store where Warner, an optician, worked at the time.
Johnson and Warner spoke on the phone nearly every day, but met in person only seven times. One of those meetings is described by Warner in Esopus 16: “One time I told him I was going to be at a friend’s garage sale in Great Neck. Ray called and asked me if I was going to have transportation back to the city, and I told him I would. He pulled up in front of the house in his Volkswagen. He was very cordial and shook hands with everyone, and then he said to my friend’s husband, who was driving me back, ‘Can I put these things I brought Bob in your trunk?’ And I said, ‘What things?’ He proceeded to take out of the car 13 cardboard boxes tied with twine, labeled ‘Bob Box 1,’ ‘Bob Box 2,’ ‘Bob Box 3’….”
A fundamental component of “Ray and Bob Box” will be 13 two-hour events at Esopus Space in which Warner will archive the contents of each of these boxes (see schedule here). The exhibition will also feature a number of never-before-seen works by Johnson from Warner’s collection, a sampling of the two artists’ correspondence, and several objects recovered by Warner from a dumpster near Johnson’s house after his death. A program of videos of Johnson by Nick Maravel will also be screened at Esopus Space the last week of June.
At Esopus Space, June 2 - June 30. If you’re in NYC go see it for me please!