Read the full chronology of exhibitions organized by the Archives of American Art.
The varied—and often unexpected—materials of postal communication
Carl Andre (b. 1935, American)
Postcard to John Held Jr., 1986
— Scott Rollins
Anna Banana, aka Anna Lee Long
(b. 1940, Canadian)
Mail art to John Evans, 2010
Ry Nikonova (1942–2014, Russian)
Mail art to John Held Jr., 1988
The mystery of a letter’s content is an important part of mail art practices around the world. The instructions “Do not open” often appear in works of artists from different countries. For example, a Guy Bleus (b. 1950) mail art piece, which was sent to John Held Jr. in 1990 (to right). In that object, the imperative has figurative meaning rather than serving as a real warning. The contradiction—an envelope is supposed to be opened, but the rubber stamp states not do so—increases one’s desire to open the letter. However, the command could have different meanings in different political and cultural contexts. In this work by Ry Nikonova, her carefully penned “Do not open!” instructions literally mean that one should carefully consider the potential consequences before looking at the contents of the envelope. It was a real warning because mail art in Soviet Russia was an unofficial and illegal practice. Participation in mail art could lead to serious punishment, such as time in prison or, in some cases, deportation from the country.
— Mariia Spirina
Ken Friedman (b. 1949, American) and Fletcher Copp (b. 1943 American)
“The Sock of the Month” announcement and sock to Lucy Lippard, ca. 1970
Ken Friedman and Fletcher Copp were active members of the international experimental art movement Fluxus, which sought to engage its audiences in the production of art and de-instrumentalize everyday life. Through Fluxus, Friedman and Copp became part of the mail art network. As Friedman stated: “Fluxus approached mail art as an opportunity to experimentation, to communication and to interaction.” With mail art projects like Sock of the Month Club, he and Copp parody product subscription clubs like “cheese of the month” clubs that capitalize on the desire to cultivate one’s taste and belong to an elite group of consumers. Sending a dirty painted sock, they disrupt the prestige on which subscription clubs depend, while sensitizing the recipient to the materiality of everyday objects.
— Miriam Kienle
Lenore Tawney (1907–2007, American)
Mail art to Kirk Winslow, son of filmmaker Maryette Charlton, ca. 1965
Fiber artist Lenore Tawney developed a visual vocabulary through her personal correspondence. Many of her mail art collages for filmmaker Maryette Charlton feature found feathers and stickers. This whimsical card references a line from Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem “Jabberwocky:”
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.”
Carl Andre postcard to John Held Jr.1986 March 25
Richard Tuttle mail art to Samuel J. Wagstaff1971 September 15
Blaster Al Ackerman mail art to John Evanscirca 1988
Ry Nikonova mail art to John Held Jr.1988
Guy Bleus Mail Art to John Held Jr.1990
Mail art collaboration sent to John Evans1988
"The Sock of the Month" announcement and sock to Lucy Lippard1970
Lenore Tawney mail art to Kirk Winslowcirca 1965
Anna Banana mail art to John Evans2010 November 22
Contents of Exhibition
The Archives of American Art’s exhibition space is located two blocks away from our D.C. Research Center in the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (8th and F Streets NW).
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