Recently I explored a collection of mail art held by the MoMA Library and put together a small show titled Analog Network: Mail Art, 1960–1999. It’s on view in the Education and Research Building through January 5.
In the process, I learned about an artist who used self-publishing and mailing in an attempt to write himself into art history. Beginning in the 1970s, Guglielmo Achille Cavellini (1914–1990) invented memoirs, wrote fanciful art history texts, and fabricated correspondence with historical figures. He used advertising-style photography to create a recognizable persona, and he even sticker bombed, peppering cities he visited with this.
Of all those gestures, I’m especially fond of one sticker: a diagram of beef cuts labeled with the names of canonical modern artists—including his own. Produced in the 1970s and labeled with the deadpan title Informazione, it’s a witty critique of attempts to schematize art history, such as the 1936 chart by Alfred Barr. As an early collector of pop art, Cavellini would have been aware of the power of appropriating ubiquitous imagery and the advent of celebrity artists. In this way the image also satirizes the art marketplace, rendering it as a “name brand” commodity to be carved up, advertised, sold, and consumed.
Cavellini distributed the sticker and other publications through the postal system (you can spot Informazione in this envelope, a mail art project from the late 1980s). Efforts like this put him in touch with an international network of mail artists—who love to copy, alter, and redistribute images like the diagram. And they did, breeding a herd of riffs that’s been roaming ever since.
For example, check out this version by Paolo Bruscky, this project organized by Tom Patrick, or this expansive rubber stamp by Robert Rocola. I’ve gathered examples in the Library collection by Klaus Groh and Edgardo Antonio Vigo, along with a bitmapped version, a “Belgian mail art bull,” and a cryptic one that has something to do with Ohio.