Pop artist on display in Islip
The exhibit features a gallery of never-before-seen work by Ray Johnson, from a private collection of the artist’s contemporary and friend, Mark Bloch.

Courtesy photo

Pop artist on display in Islip

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
9/5/2019


The Islip Art Museum will be closed for painting and installation until next weekend.

The museum will reopen on Saturday, Sept. 14 with its latest exhibit, the 10th anniversary edition of “A Book About Death: The Last Waltz,” an international mail art project that brings artists together in the continued exploration of perhaps the most unifying human experience—death.

This edition also celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the original show in New York City and the birth of the A Book About Death Project.

The exhibit features a gallery of never-before-seen work by Ray Johnson, from a private collection of the artist’s contemporary and friend, Mark Bloch.

Johnson, a Michigan native, was the founder of a far-reaching mail art network, the New York Correspondence School, and a prominent figure in the early pop art movement. He was seen, in January 1995, throwing himself from the Sag Harbor Bridge into the icy waters below—an apparent suicide. He was 67.

Multiple aspects of Johnson’s death involve the number 13, such as his age (6+7=13), the date of his death (Jan. 13, 1995) and the room number of the motel he had checked into earlier that day, 247 (2+4+7=13).

Johnson staged and participated in numerous performance art events throughout his career, leading some to speculate that his drowning acted as a final performance piece of sorts.

The late artist’s first “Book About Death” was created in the 1960s. The original unbounded book was mailed to his New York Correspondence students and contained funny, sad and ironic essays on death.

The Book About Death Project began in 2009 as a global art show at the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery in New York City. While paying homage to Johnson, the project also allowed other artists to explore the theme of death through postcard-sized works.

The work from the first show is in the permanent collections of the MoMA and Los Angeles County Museum. It includes work from over 480 artists, including Yoko Ono.

The exhibit’s curator, LuAnn Palazzo, said the upcoming show will be like “nothing” [a reference to Johnson’s work] the community has ever seen before.

Palazzo said the project has meant multiple things to her over the past 10 years. “In 2009, I felt the fierce and powerful embrace of artists from all over the world coming together at the NYC opening,” she said. “The connections were immediate and undeniable.”

This will be the third ABAD exhibition Palazzo has curated on Long Island. “The subject matter is so very important; death ties all living things together universally, yet our own culture barely speaks of it,” she added.

 

WHEN|WHERE

The exhibit’s opening reception is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 14 from 4 to 9 p.m.