“Give me a minute,” I said, walking away to reconfigure my idea. A moment later I tugged on his sleeve: “How about this: I invite 1000 artists to send me 500 small works – or post cards of their works – on the subject of death, A Book About Death – after Ray Johnson’s piece. It would serve as an homage (in mail art) to Ray, as well as to Emily, who died in 2004, and many others. I’d display the cards/works in the gallery and give them away for free. A limited edition book. Everyone benefits in this equation, and the exhibition touches upon a very open, a very deep and very wide subject – death. The entire exhibition would be free – you walk in, experience it, and leave with a limited edition of the exhibition.” That was my simple idea. I watched Christian’s face. He smiled. “Do it.”
Mary Bogdan poster for MOMA Wales
I spent the next 10 days in New York, walking about in sub-zero winds and snow flurries armed with hot coffees thinking about the mechanics. I’d had large exhibitions before – wall-to-wall-to-ceiling-tofloor installations of my collage work. Certainly, I would mail people, leverage the Internet and every contact I ever had. Years ago I produced a global mail event Greene Summer ’90 – that encouraged people to send mail to my friend, the actor Marvin Greene. He received over the course of a summer about 500 pieces of mail from all over Europe, South America and the US. This would be different, of course. Ray Johnson’s A Book About Death, a collection of photocopied drawings he sent out to people as part of his NYCS “work,” would serve as the philosophical and aesthetic point of departure. I would create a collaborative unbound book on the subject of death. Globally, we would explore, as artists and sons, daughters, parents, friends, observers the wide subject of death. When I returned to Paris, I wrote and wrote. The call, originally in English, would also have to be in Spanish, Italian, German and Japanese, Chinese. I needed collaborators. I called my close friend, the Berlin-based artist, Gloria Zein. She would come to Paris soon. When she arrived, we reworked my draft and the various aspects of the call, the logistics, and the exhibition concept.
I sent the text around to a few people in New York and Europe for thoughts and translations; soon I had several languages of the art call posted on a server and available for download. I made phone calls to various artists asking them if they would be interested in such a project, would they speak, perform, advise? I called printers all over the US to see if they would offer a special discount to our artists? (None would). I created the web site – abookaboutdeath.blogspot.com – then launched it. Would artists contribute 500 post cards, art works to become part of an unbound book on the subject of death? Critical was putting the information on FaceBook, creating a group and asking one artist to ask two artists if she or he would participate. It would have to go
viral for it to be successful. Other social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn, and art sites where creatives congregated were targeted and messages posted. Others began to promote the show. I personally asked dozens of artists to produce works (and personally wrote Emily’s friend Yoko Ono – yes, she contributed). The concept was pretty simple: Artists would design their cards, add the phrase “A BOOK ABOUT DEATH” in any language; the artists would send me the images of their works and their websites which I would post on the site. The artists would be responsible to print or produce the 500 works and mail them directly to the gallery. To say it took off is an understatement. Artists responded in a huge way and messages came in from China, Japan, Indonesia, South America and Europe, and