Feigen Contemporary is pleased to announce an exhibition of works by Ray Johnson, presented in conjunction with the premiere of the feature-length film on Johnson, "How to Draw a Bunny", at the Film Forum in New York City.
The documentary, "How to Draw a Bunny", by John Walter and Andrew Moore, to debut at the Film Forum from October 9-22, is framed by Johnson's mysterious suicide in 1995, which some consider his to be his final "performance." The film itself is a collage of photographs, art works, interviews, letters and home movies that flow together like a jazz ensemble. It explores the fascinating and often humorous world of enigmatic artist and underground icon Ray Johnson. One of the seminal figures of Pop Art, Johnson was known as "the founding father of Mail art" and as a "collagist extraordinaire". The work of the reclusive Johnson, who has been called "New York's most famous unknown artist", was ahead of its time in its conceptual approach and challenge to the commercial and critical establishment. Incorporating interviews with Roy Lichtenstein, Christo, Chuck Close, James Rosenquist, Warhol factory participant Billy Name, as well as footage of Johnson himself, the film offers an informative insight into the origins of much of present-day art and an exceptional artist who had many different faces.
The exhibition, Ray Johnson: How to Draw a Bunny, will include many works shown in the film, as well as a group of "portraits" of artists, celebrities and unknowns alike, who engaged Ray Johnson's imagination. The eponymous "bunny heads" will be represented by a group of multiples from Johnson's New York Correspondance (sic) School (the rubric for his Mail Art and performance activities), and by a selection of the more conceptual collages made shortly before his death. Johnson photographed these long, narrow collages on corrugated cardboard in unexpected outdoor settings, leaning them against fences or cars in parking lots. These more installational activities and positionings recall the pivotal moticos installation at his Dover Street studio in 1955, and bring his work full circle.
Also included in the exhibition are a series of the "Janklow portraits", which Johnson perversely transformed after first completing them. Morton Janklow\0xD4s recounting of his endless and fruitless negotiations with Johnson over these works is one of the more amusing interviews in the film. In contrast to Johnson's profile project in the 1970's, which include collage elements, a series of "portraits" on masonite show a different, more reductive and painterly side of Johnson's art. Here the emphasis is on the use of drawing and monotone brushwork to create likenesses of celebrities including James Rosenquist, Lou Reed, Paula Cooper, William de Kooning and William Burroughs.
A selection from Johnson's striking "Potato Mashers" series from the 1970's and two of Johnson's more complex masterpieces, "Saul Steinberg" and "Richard Pousette-Dart" will be also be included. Finally, a set of collages inspired by the poet Marianne Moore, with whom Johnson shared a brief correspondence, completes the exhibition. These collages use Moore's iconic tricorn hat as a symbol for the poet and her creative genius. The hat itself is transformed from collage to collage until it becomes a kind of abstract metaphor for the creative process.
How to Draw a Bunny, in both the exhibition and film, provides a special look into the life and work of a unique and influential artist who helped form the leading edge from pre-Pop to Postmodern art and into the confluence of cultural currents in the latter half of 20th century.