The Development of Ray Johnson’s and George Brecht’s Participatory and Dialogic Practices
Julie J. Thomson
Independent Scholar and Curator
In a 1967 interview, when George Brecht was asked what artists he had “a good deal in common” with, he replied: “One of the closest is Walter De Maria. There’s Robert Filliou. There is Ray Johnson in many ways, but not in others.” When asked about his affinities with Johnson he elaborated:
I think we both walk down the street and love the match-book covers that we see in the gutter; and we both find strange connections in the way things happen. I’m not sure how much there is in common between his collages and the objects I make, but that’s just one thing. I think the ways in which we see things is quite similar.
This shared sense of perception and interests first prompted Johnson to communicate with Brecht in 1959, beginning a conversation that resulted in a lifetime of exchange. This paper explores how Johnson and Brecht met, the basis for the development of their shared vision and its roots in Black Mountain College, as well as the ways in which Johnson’s and Brecht’s exchanges in the late 1950s and early 1960s provided each with the kind of viewer he needed to develop his dialogic and participatory practice.
Fig. 1 George Brecht, Letter, Undated. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, Courtesy of Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
The story of how Brecht and Johnson met, previously unknown, is preserved in an undated letter written by Brecht (fig. 1). Brecht recalls that in 1959, on the occasion of his first solo exhibition at the Reuben Gallery, Johnson left a book for him. Brecht writes: “On each page of the book were printed three letters, and in sequence it read: BOO KOF KNO WLE DGE.” In this exhibition Brecht showed two 1957 chance paintings as well as the assemblages Xylophone, Marbles, and Koan, and four newer experiential and participatory works, The Case, The Dome, Solitaire, and The Cabinet. After seeing this exhibition Johnson felt compelled to communicate with Brecht through the book he created. Around this time Johnson made other books, including BOO K OF THE MO NTH. These books relied on the active participation of the reader, reading and turning the pages, as well as motion and memory, taking form in the mind, putting the letters together though not being able to see all of them at any one time. As with the intentional blank spaces between the letters in his BOO KOF KNO WLE DGE the space on the page is just as important as the letters; the spacing can change how the letters are arranged, their relationships to one another, and their meaning. For three of his four participatory works, Brecht provided instructions of various lengths, leaving a blank space after The Cabinet, indicating his growing awareness of where explanation was needed. Through a book that required Brecht’s engagement and participation, Johnson demonstrated his understanding of the type of engagement Brecht was trying to elicit.
Upon receiving Johnson’s book, Brecht replied with a telegram, a mode of communication still used at this time for formal congratulations and announcements.  Brecht’s telegram to Johnson contained one word, a word that was forgotten by Brecht and is unknown today. Brecht’s use of a telegram may also reflect the medium’s emphasis on saying the most with the fewest words, since the sender paid by the word. It later became known as Telegram Event and marks one of his first achievements of rich communication through few words (something Brecht was working towards in some of his other scores when Johnson contacted him). Brecht’s steps toward concise communication are found in the editing of his event scores Time Table Music from 1959 and Time-Table Event from 1961. While similar in setting and actions, the instructions to the participant in the 1961 score are clearer due to their brevity.
Fig. 2 George Brecht, Word Event, 1961. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, Courtesy of Woodson Research Center Fondren Library, Rice University.
Fig. 3 George Brecht, Three Gap Events, 1961. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris, Courtesy of Woodson Research Center Fondren Library, Rice University.
Another 1961 score for Word Event (fig. 2) also demonstrates Brecht’s ability to achieve rich communication through minimum word use, as he had in Telegram Event. To develop this concise format Brecht, a scientist by training, needed a catalyst as well as a test subject for his work and Johnson was a self-selecting participant. Brecht would affirm Johnson’s importance to his event scores by dedicating two scores to him, Three Gap Events (fig. 3) and Three Lamp Events in 1961. Brecht’s other dedications include the composer John Cage and the artist Marcel Duchamp, positioning Johnson alongside these other influential artists.
A later note suggests Brecht’s feelings towards Johnson’s response. Inside the flyleaf of a book he owned, The Self and Its Brain, he wrote, “John Cage seems to think that if he contacts the most people possible, they (or someone) will understand. I think if someone understands, they will contact me (my work, the work). Leave the people alone.” Johnson’s contact with Brecht was precisely the type of response he was trying to prompt in his viewers. Both artists were seeking out respondents, a point the philosopher John Dewey emphasized: “the artist works to create an audience to which he does communicate.” Additionally by receiving a response from Brecht, Johnson found another participant with whom he began communicating, as he was on the brink of expanding his own dialogic practice of mail art that would eventually become known as the New York Correspondance School.
Brecht and Johnson were involved in a larger shift in art beginning in the late 1950s that sought to involve the spectator. The immersive scale of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, the conception of his painting as performative, and his embrace of chance aspects led artists to conceive of painting and art in new ways. The 1950s also marked a period of growing awareness of the Dada artists and Duchamp. In his 1957 lecture “The Creative Act” Duchamp emphasized the integral relationship of the artist and the viewer in order for a creative act to occur. Knowledge of these artists’ practices along with new conceptions of music and composition being explored by John Cage resulted in rich terrain for new ideas and modes of working for a number of artists.
At the time Brecht and Johnson met in 1959, despite his efforts to engage a larger audience, Johnson’s most effective communication was limited to a growing circle of friends including William S. Wilson and Black Mountain alumnus Remy Charlip. In the mid to late 1950s Johnson was making what he called Moticos, a word that referred to inked shapes and collages that he made and mailed. In an attempt to share what he was doing with more people he wrote “What is a Moticos?” and distributed it and other flyers through the mail to a growing list of recipients. In a direct attempt to engage a broader audience in 1955, Johnson interviewed people on the street, asking, “what is a Moticos?” Johnson’s Moticos and these interviews are the subject of a 1955 column in the first issue of the downtown newspaper The Village Voice. Johnson is further quoted, “I intended to ask a hundred people, but I got kinda discouraged after the first sixteen… Most of them replied ‘I don’t know.’”
In order to continue his work Johnson needed people to become curious about Moticos, to create their own definition for them, or at the very least, to respond in some way. In May 1959 he wrote to his friend, artist May Wilson, that he felt the Moticos were nearing their end. In 1958 and 1959 he experimented with mailings that contained the instruction “please send to,” asking the recipient to send the enclosure to someone else. In the midst of these experimentations, Johnson saw Brecht’s Reuben Gallery show and in Brecht he sensed a potential participant for his own work. In the early 1960s Brecht would become part of his “please send to” network. In a 1963 “please send to George Brecht” (fig. 4) Johnson included the typewritten phrase, “George Brecht Knows. George Brecht’s Nose.” With this homonym Johnson re-emphasized the understanding he and Brecht had for one another’s work, something Brecht affirmed in the scores he dedicated “To Ray J.”
Fig. 4 Ray Johnson, Untitled, Undated, Collage (mailing). © Ray Johnson Estate, Collection William S. Wilson.
In the 1950s Brecht worked in the research department at Johnson & Johnson while also pursuing his practice of creating chance-generated paintings. In 1956 he began writing an essay titled Chance Imagery, a draft of which he mailed to composer and artist John Cage, who was also using chance to create his compositions. Like Johnson’s Moticos mailings, with this essay Brecht was trying to communicate his interest in chance hoping to share it with an audience. In 1957 Brecht visited Cage’s Experimental Composition class at the New School for Social Research in New York, and enrolled in the class the following year. The class was instrumental to the development of Brecht’s event score format, which developed from Cage’s commissioning of compositions as “homework.”
It is Brecht’s study with Cage that further links his development as an artist to the ideas and theories that permeated Black Mountain College, influences that were instilled in Johnson as a student. Cage, for whom Black Mountain College provided a teaching position during two summer sessions, as well as a venue to present his performances, had his own breakthrough at Black Mountain when he saw artist Robert Rauschenberg’s white paintings. As Cage wrote, “The structure was not the point. But it was practical: you could actually see that everything was happening without anything’s being done. Before such emptiness, you just wait to see what you will see.” While Cage had been thinking about 4’33”, his composition sometimes called the silent piece, since the 1940s, seeing Rauschenberg’s paintings inspired him to finally give form to the work. He emphasized, “To Whom It May Concern: The white paintings came first; my silent piece came later.” Cage opened the ears of Brecht to the range of sounds present at any given moment, expanding Brecht’s perception of the world in the process. Cage was also an important colleague for Johnson, whom he met in 1948 at Black Mountain. In New York City the two were neighbors from 1950 to 1953. In the 1950s Cage had influential conversations with both Brecht and Johnson.
The educational philosophy of Black Mountain emphasized experience, an idea influenced and written about by Dewey and a guiding principle of the classes taught by artist Josef Albers. Albers’s lessons emphasized experimentation and embodied Dewey’s approach of “learning by doing,” resulting in a tremendous impact on students—including Johnson—shaping and changing the way many of them perceived the world. As has often been mentioned, upon his arrival at Black Mountain, when asked what he planned to teach, Albers responded, “To make open the eyes.” The ability to see and perceive was of utmost importance to Albers in terms of creation, a feeling reflected in his statement, “We cannot communicate graphically what we do not see. That which we see incorrectly we will report incorrectly.”
Dewey discussed experience at length in his landmark 1934 book, Art As Experience, and differentiated between experience and an experience. He noted that compared to the overall nature of experience, an experience had a sense of conclusion, as he wrote, “An experience has a unity that gives it its name.” Dewey continues, “An experience has pattern and structure, because it is not just doing and undergoing in alternation, but consists of them in relationship…The action and its consequence must be gained in perception. This relationship is what gives meaning…” Both Johnson and Brecht were experimenting with approaches to frame experience in ways that could be perceived by viewers, working towards producing an experience for the viewer.
Another artist at this time who was interested in experience and influenced by Dewey was Allan Kaprow, Brecht’s neighbor and fellow classmate in Cage’s class. In the late 1950s, Brecht, Johnson, and Kaprow were all looking for alternatives to Abstract Expressionist painting and also ways to escape what Brecht called the “static quality of the work at the time.” After Pollock, Kaprow saw an expanded field of art that moved beyond the canvas into the space of the viewer, and he wrote about this in his 1958 essay The Legacy of Jackson Pollock. While Kaprow and Brecht, and possibly Johnson, began by exploring ideas of experience and participation from similar positions, Brecht and Johnson departed from Kaprow in significant ways.
Kaprow’s first Happening was staged in 1958. The word “Happening” would be used by a number of other artists seeking to engage the audience through all-encompassing programs in which the viewers participated. Into the 1960s Kaprow experimented with the structure of his Happenings, but a constant was their highly scripted format. In Cage’s class, Brecht at first pursued a heavily-scripted approach similar to Kaprow’s. However during a class performance of his 1958 score titled Three Colored Lights,Cage remarked, “I never felt so controlled before.” With this feedback Brecht began to move away from dictated scores to more open-ended ones that allowed for a range of results and choices on the part of the participant.
While Brecht, Johnson and Kaprow were all interested in the multi-dimensionality of experience, Kaprow responded to the spectacle of everyday life with his own spectacles. By contrast, Brecht’s and Johnson’s interests focused on the otherwise unobserved moments that make up daily life, providing perceptual frames for heightened experience of these moments. An example of Kaprow’s spectacle approach and Brecht’s openness is apparent in a comparison of Brecht’s Word (Event) and Kaprow’s Words. Brecht’s score consisting of the word “exit” remains open-ended and can be performed at any moment with a minimal amount of effort. Kaprow’s Words consisted of a room filled with words written on pieces of paper, required instructions for participation as well as supplies and logistics, and took place at the Smolin Gallery in 1962. Brecht’s scores have a flexibility, many are possible to realize anywhere at any time and they require few objects (if any) for their realization, Kaprow’s Happenings required a gallery or site, supplies, and happened once within a designated time frame.
While Johnson had begun to experiment with creating perceptible experiences with his Moticos, his 1961 and 1962 performative works titled Nothing and Second Nothing demonstrate a new level of presentation. Johnson’s 1961 Nothing took place on July 30 at George Maciunas’s AG Gallery in New York, the last program in a series titled Musica Antiqua et Nova which included presentation of works by La Monte Young, Henry Flynt and Walter De Maria. As art historian and artist Ed Plunkett recalls,
[The gallery] was empty except for some bags of plaster and some stacks of lumber and wall boards … and we stood or sat around on these supplies while visitors began to enter the premises. Most of them looked quite dismayed that nothing was going on… when those who arrived and wanted to know what was happening we all spoke up and said “Nothing.” Well, finally Ray arrived. He hadn’t been there up to this point, and he brought with him a large corrugated cardboard box of wooden spools which he probably picked up from the discard junk of a factory in Soho. Soon after arriving Ray emptied this box of spools down the staircase that led to the gallery. Thus with these wooden spools, about eight or ten inches long, covering the steps one had to step cautiously to avoid slipping down the staircase and possibly breaking one’s neck.
Within this frame an expectation developed on the part of the audience, even though they knew the title was Nothing. Through Nothing Johnson was trying to create the conditions to perceive how things were happening all the time. By including the dropping of the spools, something that if it happened in daily life could easily go unnoticed, Johnson showed how the context made its occurrence dramatic. In a manner similar to Brecht’s event scores or Cage’s 4’33,” the audience was primed to perceive the dropping of the spools as well as the moments before and after. How much nothing and how much happening that was perceived during Nothing was left up to the viewer to determine, as Plunkett demonstrates with his recollection.
Fig. 5 Ray Johnson, Untitled (Allan Kaprow Space), Undated, Collage (mailing). © Ray Johnson Estate, Collection William S. Wilson.
Appearing at the height of Happenings, Nothings provided pauses, space that Johnson emphasized in a collage where he labeled and increased the space between parts of a newspaper clipping about a Happening by Kaprow. Johnson mailed this undated (though likely circa 1962) collage (fig. 5) to William S. Wilson. To create it, Johnson cut out a newspaper article about Kaprow’s 1962 Happening Words presented at the Smolin Gallery, taped the papers with a space between them, acting upon the space created by the column break in the article (noted by the line at the bottom of the first section). The first section ends with the line “…a room full of words, some of…” and in the space Johnson created, he typed “space” to label it. The first room of Kaprow’s dense environment, Words, was filled with pieces of paper on which words had been written and the sound of records playing. The second room contained walls to write on and strings onto which slips of paper that viewers wrote words on could be attached. The jumbled nature of words resembles the cacophony of a busy street filled with people shouting, allowing for little sense to be made of all the words being shouted. While not participating in the way Kaprow envisioned, Johnson created his own opportunity for participation with this addition to Words. Johnson’s collage inserts a material pause at the height of Happenings, a space he also inserted through his performative Nothing (1961) and Second Nothing (1962).
Fig. 6 William S. Wilson, Photograph of Ray Johnson’s Second Nothing, 1962. Courtesy of William S. Wilson.
Johnson’s Second Nothing took place on March 24, 1962, during Variety (presented by the New York Poets Theatre at Maidman Playhouse, a program during which Brecht also presented Palinrome). While written audience accounts do not seem to survive about Johnson’s Second Nothing, photographs (fig. 6) taken by Wilson, do exist and show Johnson standing in a dark space, illuminated by a strong path, or ray, of light. A typewritten piece of paper also exists and is connected to the Second Nothing through its first line. It reads: “Second Nothing, 1. Dear Cora Baron, Joseph Cornell has bangs. Bang, bang. 2. Dear Gloria Graves, When it rains, it pours. I have a hat for you. 3. Dear Malka Safro, Smoke in bed. 4. Dear Alison Higgins, Advertisements for Myself and Alison Higgins paintings.” This paper could be described as a script, but the ambiguous text diverges from the directives in most Happenings’ scripts. The relationship of these four lines of text to the photographs and the performance of the Second Nothing remains ambiguous and open to interpretation. Brecht’s Palinrome, as Wilson recalls, consisted of “a proscenium-arch theater, red velvet curtains or apparently so, that is, a fully theatrical setting, the curtains parted maybe eight feet to reveal a plain old and old-fashioned wooden chair…. The curtains remained open for the right length of time, then closed, then the audience applauded.” Johnson and Brecht were both attempting to direct the focus of the audience to what they did—creating a frame—and also a coherence that could be perceived as an experience. Both avoided larger metaphorical or illusionistic overtones, focusing the spectators’ attention on what was taking place at the moment of each presentation, with their perception of what was presented being an integral part of the existence of each.
When asked about Nothing, Johnson avoided direct comment, leaving it up to those who attended to give an account. He remained present as the author but transferred the responsibility for the account, explanation and meaning to the viewer, allowing for multiple perspectives to become part of the work. This approach echoes Cage’s comments about 4’33”: “The performance should make clear to the listener that the hearing of the piece is his own action—that the music, so to speak, is his, rather than the composer’s.” With Johnson’s Nothings and Brecht’s event scores, the art resides in the involvement of its participant. This echoes Duchamp’s argument that the creative act occurs when the spectator deciphers and interprets the act. For Brecht and Johnson the creative act occurs when Brecht’s event scores are realized by individuals, and when attendees at Johnson’s Nothings provided accounts of each. Without this participation there would be no work. Kaprow involved the audience but if one person in the audience chose not to participate, it would simply change the participant’s experience of the Happening, the Happening still happened and Kaprow also provided his own written account of what happened.
The open-nature of Brecht’s and Johnson’s frameworks for participation is further reflected in Johnson’s participation in one of Brecht’s summer 1961 event scores that was exchanged, added to, and initialed by both. To a card created by Brecht titled Exhibit Seven that reads, “house number,” Johnson replied by taping “No. 47” and a picture of a cologne bottle with “No. 4711.” These additions to Brecht’s invitation provided two answers, an important demonstration of an approach stemming from the possibilities of something being both/and instead of either/or. This open-endedness in both of their practices resulted in new possibilities with each response, continually adding to the work, never limiting it.
The open-endedness of Johnson’s and Brecht’s practices stemmed from their interest in language, particularly the multiplicity of meanings and referents words could have, and the open and shifting nature of the signifier. Brecht’s event scores allowed for multiple realizations and even for the same person to realize an event differently. Johnson’s Please Add to And Return pages, sometimes an outline of his profile with this directive, which he mailed to various people (including other artists such as Chuck Close and Jim Rosenquist) and at least once in a magazine, provided a basis for the recipient to add to and alter the original template. Like the multiple meanings words can have, the open-ended formats Brecht and Johnson used allowed for a range of possibilities to result, as well as space for the unexpected to occur.
Dewey’s comments about communication and the relationship to participation add to this discussion of Brecht and Johnson. In Art As Experience he writes,
For communication is not announcing things…Communication is the process of creating participation, of making common what had been isolated and singular; and part of the miracle it achieves is that, in being communicated, the conveyance of meaning gives body and definiteness to the experience of the one who utters as well as to that of those who listen. 
Johnson and Brecht both knew how to announce things, but what they were striving for in their practices was communication. Dewey’s emphasis on participation, the listening as well as the speaking, captures the elements that Johnson and Brecht were realizing were so important to their work. Communication was essential for the realization of Brecht’s event scores and the continuation of Johnson’s New York Correspondance School. Johnson eventually felt that he achieved the back-and-forth exchanges that communication requires, commenting, “…I think that the New York Correspondance School was an art of communication that was truly communicative simply because I was able to wield the ping-pong paddle and to keep the ball on the move.”
While Brecht’s and Johnson’s responses to one another allowed each artist to develop his participatory and dialogic work, audiences today continue to benefit from their exchanges. The openness of their practices allow for people today to realize Brecht’s event scores in their daily lives, becoming conscious of these ephemeral moments in the process, and for Johnson’s ideas and mailings to continue to circulate. These opportunities allow for both Brecht’s and Johnson’s creative acts to continue and, as Dewey said, “We become artists ourselves as…our own experience is reoriented.”
Thank you to William S. Wilson for his discussing Johnson with me and for sharing materials from his collection.
- Henry Martin, “An Interview with George Brecht by Henry Martin” in
Book of the Tumbler on Fire
- , ed. Henry Martin, (Milan: Edizioni Multipla, 1978). Also available online at http://ubu.wfmu.org/text/Brecht-George_Tumbler.pdf.
Some of these exchanges include letters to Brecht from Johnson from the 1960s, Brecht’s portraits of Johnson made in the 1960s, and Johnson’s 1968 and 1987 portraits of Brecht.
William S. Wilson has suggested that Brecht may have received a BOO KOF THE MON TH instead of BOO KOF KNO WLE DGE, but if so, the spacing and participation is present in both books.
Speed is another element to consider but, since at this time Brecht lived in New Jersey and Johnson lived in New York, if this aspect was part of the message, it was used symbolically.
In the undated letter Brecht comments, “I don’t remember what the word was. Later I received in the mail the telegram, with a little piece cut out and a small animal drawn on with India ink.”
Julia Robinson, “In the Event of George Brecht” in George Brecht Events A Heterospective(Köln: Walther König, 2005), 56.
Allan Kaprow, Assemblage, Environments & Happenings(New York: H.N. Abrams, 1966), 173. Kaprow reproduced a portion of this score, omitting the quote by Johnson.
Kasper König, “Foreword” in George Brecht Events: A Heterospective, 8.
John Dewey, Art As Experience,(New York: Penguin Group, 1934; New York: Perigee, 2005), 109. Citations are to the Perigee edition.
The name New York Correspondance School played off of both correspondence courses, courses administered through the mail, and names for groups of artists including the New York School for the Abstract Expressionists.
Henry Martin, “Should an Eyelash Last Forever? An Interview with Ray Johnson,” 1982, in Lotta Poetica, 2, no. 6 (1984) 2-24; reprinted in Donna DeSalvo and Catherine Gudis, Ray Johnson Correspondences, (New York: Flammarion, 1999), 192. Johnson said, “The Moticos were the little black silhouettes I did, and they were a miniature cataloguing of actual free-form collage fragments.”
John Wilcock, “The Village Square,” The Village Voice, October 26, 1955. Johnson mentioned his mailing list in 1955 was around 200 people.
Ray Johnson to May Wilson, late May 1959 or after, Collection of William S. Wilson and Ray Johnson, “Moticos questionnaire,” undated, Collection of William S. Wilson. Both quoted in Ray Johnson’s Early Life and Works, 1927-1960 compiled by Michael von Uchtrup, using source materials including Ray Johnson Chronology by Frances F.L. Beatty, Jennifer Grossman, Muffet Jones, Clive Phillpot, Gillian Pistell, Michael von Uchtrup, and William Wilson, courtesy of the author and the Ray Johnson Estate at Richard L. Feigen & Co.Johnson: “I am still singing the song of the Moticos but it is warbling and soon may cough last gasps. Fun while it lasted.” The Moticos questionnaire by Johnson includes the question, “Would you want to see a Moticos if you knew nothing about it?”
Michael von Uchtrup, Ray Johnson’s Early Life and Works, 1927-1960. Johnson’s first known “please send to” was sent to Remy Charlip on June 9, 1958 and the next one on June 15, 1959 to William S. Wilson.
Johnson put his friend and artist May Wilson in touch with Brecht, since the letters of May could be read as “Yam,” connecting her to Brecht’s Yam Festival, a month of events to be held in May.
Johnson would have delighted in Brecht’s employment by a company that doubled his own last name.
“Biographical Chronology,” George Brecht Events: A Heterospective, 306. Brecht’s Chance Imagery was published in 1966 as A Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press. According to the timeline Brecht recalls his first awareness of Cage dating to 1951.
John Cage, “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, and His Work” in Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage (Middletown: Wesleyan Press, 1961), 107.
Michael von Uchtrup, Ray Johnson’s Early Life and Works, 1927-1960. Paul van Emmerik, “A John Cage Compendium,” http://www.xs4all.nl/~cagecomp/. They each lived in different apartments/studios at 326 Monroe Street, Johnson with sculptor Richard Lippold and Cage with choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.
Dewey served on the advisory board for the school and his theories were adopted by John Andrew Rice, the Director of Black Mountain from 1933, when it opened, until 1940.
Frederick Horowitz, “Albers the Teacher” in Josef Albers: To Open Eyes (London: Phaidon, 2009), 73.
Josef Albers, “Concerning Art Instruction” in Black Mountain College Bulletin(Asheville: Black Mountain College, 1934); quoted in Ibid., 151.
See Jeff Kelley “Introduction” for a discussion of Kaprow and Dewey, Allan Kaprow, “Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life,” ed. by Jeff Kelley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), xi-xxvi.
Michael Nyman, “An Interview with George Brecht by Michael Nyman” in Book of the Tumbler on Fire, 115. Brecht recalled Cage saying the quote above or, “Nobody’s ever tried to control me so much.”
Thank you to Mary Leclère for suggesting this comparison.
Ed Plunkett to William S. Wilson, 22 October 1996. Collection of William S. Wilson. See also Ed Plunkett, “Send, Letters, Postcards, Drawings, and Objects…The New York Correspondence School.” Art Journal, 36 (Spring 1977): 234. In both of these recollections Plunkett states this Nothing taking place in 1962 but according to the other print ephemera that survives the AG Gallery Nothingtook place in 1961.
Thank you to Alison de Lima Greene for this observation.
Brecht plays here with the ability to misread this title as palindrome and having a pal in Rome.
Image reproduced in Ray Johnson Correspondences, 150.
Email to the author, William S. Wilson, 14 July 2010.
Richard Kostelanetz, “Conversation with John Cage” in John Cage, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (New York: Praeger, 1970), 11.
Julia Robinson in “From Abstraction to Model: George Brecht’s Events and the Conceptual Turn in Art of the 1960s.” October, 127 (2009): 79-80; Marcel Duchamp, “The Creative Act” in Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp(New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1959), 77-78. Robinson discusses Duchamp’s “The Creative Act” in relation to Brecht’s event scores.
William S. Wilson photographed the Second Nothingoffering another type of record.
An image of this work is reproduced in George Brecht Events: A Heterospective, 260.
The both/and relationship is one that Johnson engaged with frequently. A precedent for this can be found in Duchamp’s response to the statement that a door is either open or closed. To disprove the certainty of this he created a door mounted on a hinge between two doorways, proving it can be open and shut at the same time. This both/and approach also relates to Quantum physics which Brecht was interested in at the time.
Julia Robinson, “From Abstraction to Model: George Brecht’s Events and the Conceptual Turn in Art of the 1960s,” October, 127 (2009): 95-96.
Martin, “Should an Eyelash Last Forever ? An Interview with Ray Johnson,” 196.
John Held Jr., “Illogical as an Instructive Process: An Interview with Ray Johnson,” 2 December 1977, http://www.fluxusheidelberg.org/jh_flux_int_v1.html.